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The Unseen World #1

An Unkindness of Magicians

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There is a dark secret that is hiding at the heart of New York City and diminishing the city’s magicians’ power in this fantasy thriller by acclaimed author Kat Howard.

In New York City, magic controls everything. But the power of magic is fading. No one knows what is happening, except for Sydney—a new, rare magician with incredible power that has been unmatched in decades, and she may be the only person who is able to stop the darkness that is weakening the magic. But Sydney doesn’t want to help the system, she wants to destroy it.

Sydney comes from the House of Shadows, which controls the magic with the help of sacrifices from magicians.

352 pages, ebook

First published September 26, 2017

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About the author

Kat Howard

117 books760 followers
Kat Howard is a writer of fantasy, science fiction, and horror who lives and writes in Minnesota.

Her novella, The End of the Sentence, co-written with Maria Dahvana Headley, was one of NPR's best books of 2014, and her debut novel, Roses and Rot was a finalist for the Locus Award for Best First Novel. An Unkindness of Magicians was named a best book of 2017 by NPR, and won a 2018 Alex Award. Her short fiction collection, A Cathedral of Myth and Bone, collects work that has been nominated for the World Fantasy Award, performed as part of Selected Shorts, and anthologized in year’s best and best of volumes, as well as new pieces original to the collection. She was the writer for the first 18 issues of The Books of Magic, part of DC Comics' Sandman Universe. Her next novel, A Sleight of Shadows, the sequel to An Unkindness of Magicians, is coming April 25, 2023. In the past, she’s been a competitive fencer and a college professor.

You can find her @KatwithSword on Twitter and on Instagram. She talks about books at Epigraph to Epilogue.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,873 reviews
Profile Image for Sara (sarawithoutanH).
481 reviews3,019 followers
January 14, 2019
Actual Rating: 2.5/5

This book was…. not great. The writing was actually very good, but the story suffered from an excessive amount of characters and perspectives. The world building was jumbled and there was way too much going on for the length of the book. The book kept building up to epic battles that got solved in a matter of sentences and major plot points were revealed too early. The pacing was all off and it’s a shame because the writing style and premise had so much promise. To quote another reviewer, “An Unkindness of Magicians reads like a screenplay: the bare bones of a good story waiting for the right actors to come along and bring it to life.”
May 11, 2023

I don't even know where to begin. Okay. Phew.
So, this book is perfect. And I don't mean like "this is a modern classic o m g literally Shakespeare reborn" perfect. I mean this book was one hell of a ride perfect. Yeeeeee-ah!!! So. Much. Fun!!!

If I had to describe this book in a few words, I would describe it as "Harry Potter for adults". There is a bunch of Houses of magic people who are filthy rich and bored and challenge each other with mortal magic duels. They don't actually use wands but, you know, move their hands weirdly and pronounce spells (can I mention how fun and poetic the spells are described? like: "she spoke words that smelled harsh and bitter" or "bent her fingers into unforgiving shapes" like seriously I can never have enough of synesthesia in books).

As I said, this was harry Potter for adults, and it was so funny to read about wizards drinking, snogging, saying words like "that sucks!" or "dumbass". Or, you know, making fun of other wizards for wearing cloaks. Yeah, also using phones. I always wondered why J. K. Rowling made wizards refuse technology... like why? I mean, phones don't bite... But I digress.

This book was so short for a fantasy book, and yet so dense! Sooo many things happen, and you have time to get attached to the characters and root for them in like one chapter! And Sydney, the protagonist... She is so BADASS!!! I absolutely adore her. She just can't be bothered.

But I make it sound like this was just some light, fun read: in actuality, this book was very entertaining, but I also think it requires a great deal of ability as an author to create such a believable yet fantastical world; a story so entertaining and fast-paced, characters so well-built and reveals placed right at the perfect time! Not to mention the antagonists... such exquisite evilness!

I genuinely cannot find any flaw in this book. Entertaining, yet masterfully written. Fun, yet extremely dramatic. An action-packed fantasy gem in so few pages! Bravo! Can't wait for the sequel!

Oh, almost forgot... Isn't that cover just STUNNING?
Profile Image for Jennifer.
429 reviews184 followers
December 16, 2017
(2.5 stars, rounded down because of sheer disappointment on my part.) This is by no means a bad book, but it would have been a better film. Kat Howard writes visually arresting scenes that would lend themselves beautifully to cinema. See the opening scene, for example, in which a beautiful young woman steps out into NYC traffic, levitates all the passing vehicles, and conducts them in the air with precision and grace. Unfortunately, as a book, An Unkindness of Magicians suffers from an overabundance of characters and perspectives, none of which get enough stage time to feel fully developed. I didn't count, but we get snippets from maybe 10 different characters - enough that I found myself trying to remember, "OK, which one was Madison again? What was her relationship with Sydney?" There are also characters who are introduced and defeated or killed all within the same chapter.

The plot is reasonably interesting: a powerful wizard of enigmatic background shows up on the magic scene right as the city's magical houses are about to duel for dominance. Sydney accepts an offer to act as champion to an up and coming house, but she's got her own allegiances and goals. Meanwhile, old bad blood between houses flares up again, and girls keep turning up dead, with their finger bones pulled out of their hands. Oh, and magic seems to be failing.

There's a LOT of stuff going on for its 300 some pages, and frankly, it's probably too much. Battles are resolved too quickly, what initially seems like it might turn out be a mystery is just given away , people turn out to be related to other people. Sometimes the writing achieves brilliance - the magical duels are gorgeously vivid and the characters have moments of raw emotional awakening. But to me, An Unkindness of Magicians reads like a screenplay: the bare bones of a good story waiting for the right actors to come along and bring it to life.

This is the second Kat Howard book I've been disappointed by. They come so close to being what I want out of my fiction and then fall short because I just don't care enough about the characters.
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 5 books3,979 followers
January 19, 2018
As I was reading this, I was caught by just how bleak and depressing the world of magic is. It carried over to me almost immediately and I wondered if I was falling into a black spell.

But no, I think it was mostly just the world of this imagination.

When we're talking about the unkindness of magicians, it's a real dog-eat-dog life with some of the evilest requirements to keep the magic flowing I've seen, brought home even more because it's our modern world. The ending wasn't as bleak as most of the journey, thank goodness, but I was really struck by the effect.

I probably should have been in a different kind of mood when reading this. Maybe I should have been prepared for just how cutthroat it was, but that, in itself, isn't bad if that's what you're looking for. If the author intended it, then Howard succeeded very nicely.

That being said, I'm bogged down in a little bit of an existential horror by reading this. :) Bravo!

I have to wonder if it was just this book or whether the rest of Kat Howard's writing feels like this. The effect is marvelously disturbing. I just didn't want to be disturbed in quite this way, and so my enjoyment suffered. Alas.

Even so, it was interesting to find out exactly why the magic was failing. :)
Profile Image for Kitty G Books.
1,551 reviews2,937 followers
March 21, 2018
This is one of those times where buying a book based purely off of the stunning cover and the wonderful-sounding blurb really paid off. I hadn't really heard much about this author, and I didn't get recommended her by anyone else, I just decided that this was a book I needed to pick up based on the cover alone. I am so very, very glad that this does have such a great cover, because it turned out to be a really fantastic book too, and I wouldn't have been drawn to it if it were not for the cover art.

This is set in an urban fantasy world where New York city is the heart of much of the world's magic. We follow quite a few different characters, all magical but to very different abilities, as they try to navigate the next Turning...a magical shifting of power based on a competition of magicians from different Houses.
The magic of this world is a dark and twisty sort, which comes from a source many are reluctant to talk about. The Houses draw their magic and cast, without much though to the Shadows where most magic resides. However, we follow a character called Sydney who is from the House of Shadows and is one of the only people to ever escape its clutches. This is a dark world which claws at people and destroys happily.

Sydney becomes one of the major players in the book when she starts to represent a House Beauchamps. She's an unknown, and so many don't think that she has anything worth looking out for, but it quickly appears that there's a lot more to Sydney than meets the eye.
We also have: Ian, a Merlin who has left his House (the most powerful in the Unseen world at the moment) as he disagrees with their magical ideas; Harper, a young and weak magician who knows just enough magic to be on the fringes of society, and who is hunting down the killer of her best friend; Laurent, a young outsider who is fairly new to the ways of the Unseen world and who hires Sydney to represent him and many more. Each character is fleshed out, interesting and filled with potential and a story and motive of their own.

The plot of this book doesn't take long to get in to and in fact it was a really enjoyable, fast-paced fantasy read. I ended up really liking the characters and finding the fast pace and solid world building to be a great backdrop for our characters.

I've said before that I'm not a huge fan of Urban Fantasy, but this is a book which will be the exception. I think it reminded me a lot of Emma Newman's Splitworlds series, but this still felt fresh and unique as it is. This is also a standalone which is rare, but was really well done. It had a good beginning middle and ending, and I was left intrigued about more of the world, but happy with the conclusion to this particular story in the world.

Overall, I really liked this and I think if you like darker magic and conniving villains with powerful leading ladies, you may really like this. It's a great read and I will certainly be picking up more by this author in future! 4.5*s from me.
Profile Image for Mogsy (MMOGC).
2,034 reviews2,605 followers
September 26, 2017
3.5 of 5 stars at The BiblioSanctum https://bibliosanctum.com/2017/09/26/...

A solid 3.5 star read. Kat Howard enchanted me with her debut Roses and Rot last year, so I was excited to check out An Unkindness of Magicians, her sophomore novel about a hidden world of magic and power. In this “Unseen World”, members of elite magical houses come together every few years to duke it out in a tournament called the Turning, with each family represented by their chosen champion. Ostensibly held to place each house in a hierarchical order based on magical proficiency, the competition may in fact be a front for a more nefarious purpose, as this twisted and snappy tale will soon reveal.

Unlike Howard’s first novel which was written in the first person, An Unkindness of Magicians features a larger cast and bounces between multiple third-person perspectives. Our key players include Sydney, a relative unknown who bursts upon the scene with her extraordinary and unmatched talent with magic; Laurent, an outsider who hopes to enter the Turning for a chance to establish his own House; Grey Prospero, Laurent’s best friend who was disinherited from his House as the result of a serious and undisclosed transgression he committed; Harper, an independent magician determined to infiltrate the Unseen World to discover the truth behind her best friend’s mysterious death; and of course, there are also Miles Merlin and Miranda Prospero, two powerful House leaders who each have a stake in how the Turning plays out.

The situation gets a little muddy though, as the heirless House Prospero takes on Ian Merlin, the beloved son of Miles, as their champion. Left with no other choice, House Merlin must put forth Ian’s sister as champion, potentially pitting the siblings against each other in a fight to the death. Meanwhile, acting as a free agent, Sydney has decided to partner with Laurent and compete on his behalf, and Grey, who is taking a page from his best friend, has decided to try and establish his own House as well, by representing himself in the Turning.

That’s a lot to take in, right? But wait—there’s more, believe it or not. I haven’t even gotten into the “serial killer” part of the plot yet, involving magical women who are murdered for their power-infused finger bones. Then there’s the House of Shadows, a prison for slaves and sacrifices, because unfortunately, magic isn’t an unlimited resource and using it exacts a cost. This is where the Shadows come in, paying the price for the great Houses’ power. As a child, Sydney was a prisoner of the House of Shadows, but she survived and is on her way to winning her freedom, as long as she can fulfill her orders and emerge victorious in the Turning, even if it means having to kill Ian Merlin, whom she has become romantically involved with.

If your head is spinning right now, I don’t blame you; I felt much the same while reading this book, especially in the first half while I struggled to keep all the names and their relationships straight. There’s almost too much going on here for a mere 350-page novel, and as you can imagine, the story felt extremely rushed. Character development also suffered because of this, with the focus being so dispersed on the different storylines and people involved. As a result, I found it nearly impossible to connect with anyone, a stark contrast from my experience with Roses in Rot, which mainly centered on the main protagonist and the deeply compelling relationship with her sister. Possibly, Howard is still trying to find her feet when it comes to writing a large cast and multiple perspectives, finding a balance between pacing and characterization that works. Things were a little shaky with An Unkindness of Magicians, which failed to impart the same level of emotional impact due to weaker characters as well as the breakneck speed at which we whipped through important events.

That said, the story itself is fascinating, and so is the Unseen World in which all of these magical power struggles take place. Furthermore, the second half of the novel is stronger than the first half—not coincidentally, perhaps, since this is also where Howard begins to stitch together the many pieces of the plot. Once the bigger picture starts to take shape, this is when the author’s writing really shines. While her prose in this book is not as beautiful or as deft as it was in Roses and Rot, it does come through every now and then, especially during some of the story’s quieter moments.

All told, I didn’t think Kat Howard’s An Unkindness of Magicians was as meaningful or as gorgeously wrought as her debut, but it does make up for that in other areas, like having a fantastic premise and imaginative world-building. Lack of character development and uneven pacing are perhaps the novel’s main weaknesses, but in spite of that, I still enjoyed myself. I’ll continue to be on the lookout for the author’s future work.
Profile Image for Fiona.
1,222 reviews225 followers
April 27, 2023
Kat Howard wrote one of my favourite books of all time with Roses and Rot, though more for how much it resonated - and so I'm relieved that I enjoyed this so much with that aspect removed. Despite the odd rough patch here and there, I really, really enjoyed this book.

The world of magic in this book might ring familiar to anyone who's heard of Omelas - all magic in this world has consequences, though a way to outsource those consequences has been found. But magic itself is seeming to fade, and now that it's time for the Turning (think Fortune's Wheel, formalised into a tournament for governing rights), it's a ripe opportunity for those who want change to step forward.

For the most part, I absolutely loved this - Kat Howard has a tendency to hit some of my very favourite tropes, that make her books my personal catnip. There's a couple of slight rough patches here and there - Sydney is understandably slow to trust, yet goes to Ian at a bad time very early in their friendship - there's almost too many characters, leaving some of them a bit underdeveloped and taking some of the oomph out of their storylines - but I was able to shrug those off because of the parts I did love. It makes this a much more personal review - I'm not as confident that this would work for other readers.

But the bits I loved - oh they're good. The cast of characters is inclusive and diverse, and some of the imagery is just gorgeous. . This author makes worlds I want to live in - and for an escape from 2020, however brief, I'm so very grateful.

Reread in 2023 as the sequel's out - it holds up!
Profile Image for Justine.
1,135 reviews309 followers
January 7, 2018
This is a very solid and enjoyable modern magician story. I liked the focus on a single event in the Unseen World - the Turning - where magicians battle each other for supremacy and the right to lead the magical world. I loved Laurent, although he seemed pretty naive at times, particularly as the sole black man and an Outsider to the Unseen World.

I enjoyed Howard's writing, although I felt the pacing was a tiny bit off towards the end, where things happened so quickly I almost missed them. That said, it didn't impact my overall enjoyment much, and I appreciated the brevity in her writing, the way she got right to the heart of the story, and at no point did I feel like things were dragging.

After reading this book, I'm interested in going back and reading Howard's debut novel, Roses and Rot, something I always intended to do and never go around to. But I enjoyed An Unkindness of Magicians enough that I want to rectify that.
Profile Image for Alison.
548 reviews3,655 followers
February 14, 2019
this was FABULOUS.
This is basically like the setup for a Hunger Games with magicians, but much for sophisticated. It takes place in the city and we get to see all the dark corners that hide the magic away and how that magic has it's own world and rules.
This isn't as action packed as I wish it could have been (my only flaw with it); it could have set it up to have some seriously epic battle scenes, though I can understand how this wouldn't fit the main audience. We get mentions of each persons' magic and some glimpses into the battle, but nothing too intense.
It is definitely more of a drama, full of secrets and family connections, scandal and more of the such. I loved the plot twists and the way everyone is connected in some way. It brought magicians and my favorite parts of domestic thrillers and made a fantastic story unlike any other.
This is one of the stories that is so unique that you don't forget it easily. I knew from the first 10 minutes I listened to it that this was going to be a book I loved, and I so very did.
The world is complex but the author describes it in an effortless way, which is an art in itself.
Now, if only I could get those magic battles, that would be something amazing.
Profile Image for Gergana.
227 reviews391 followers
Shelved as 'zzz-books-not-for-me'
July 23, 2019
Not for me, left me feeling depressed. Too dark, too many characters who feel either miserable, hateful or desperate. Couldn't find one likeable character, couldn't care less if all of them died.

Profile Image for Lata.
3,616 reviews192 followers
January 25, 2018
3.5 stars. While I enjoyed this title, I did find myself a little confused at times during portions of dialogue; I found myself rereading snippets of dialogue since I wasn't always sure who had said what. There was also some slightly odd editing that necessitated rereading preceding paragraphs so I could clarify the action. I also felt that the resolution for the baddies was a little too neatly handled. That said, I liked the magic system and its costs, and its implementation (e.g., Laurent's comment about "jazz hands", and a description of one of Sydney's castings looking like she was playing "cat's cradle"). Without the author stating it too explicitly, I got the sense that the House heads were misogynistic, and the makeup of the Unseen World felt pretty racially homogeneous. I did like the number of female characters doing things in this story.
Profile Image for Renee Godding.
613 reviews576 followers
March 21, 2019

“Magic, at its heart, starts with sacrifice. You have to give up something to get something, and because magic is big, with all that it allows you access to, what you give up has to be big. It has to be meaningful.”

When I first saw this book in my library, I was ecstatic. Urban fantasy, gorgeous cover and a plot that gave me vibes of the Tri-wizard tournament from Harry Potter on steroids: something I didn’t know I wanted, but now that I had it in my hands I couldn’t wait.
Although it wasn’t quite thát cool, I did like this novel for what it was: an action-filled, enjoyable, albeit fairly middle-of-the-road urban fantasy.

The novel takes place in an underground society of magicians (The Unseen World) during an event called The Turning, essentially a magical tournament between Houses for power over the Unseen World. Our protagonist Sydney is the contestant for The House of Shadows, a House with as many dark secrets as that name suggests. Sydney herself however isn’t so transparent either, as she has an entire agenda of her own.
An Unkindness of Magicians has a fast-paced plot that follow multiple perspectives, and wasn’t for a moment boring. This is simultaneously its biggest strength and weakness in my opinion. There’s barely a scene without action, which pulled me in from the start, but ended up wearing me out fairly quickly. Too little action can result in a bored reader, but too much can do the same, as it takes away from the grandness of the moments that should have real impact. An Unkindness of Magicians lacked that contrast for me, which made the entirety enjoyable enough, but anticlimactic in the end.
Along with the fast pace of the novel go the many perspective switches. Simply stated: there were too many. Not only did it take me half of the novel to get on track with all the different names, I also felt like all of them had too little pagetime to be developed properly. Even Sydney felt like she was desperately trying to struggle her way out of the overpowered-kickass-female-protagonist-zone, but didn’t get the opportunity to do so.
When it comes to the magic system and world building; I think the novel did a good job here. I always like the idea of magic that comes with a cost as it somehow balances the world out for me, and makes it more believable. (Yes, I realize it sounds ridiculous to talk about believability in the context of magic, but you get my point). The magic in this world is fueled by Despite not being a groundbreaking new concept, it really works in the context of the novel, and that’s ultimately what counts.

An Unkindness of Magicians all in all was a three-star read for me: very enjoyable, but not as memorable or special as I might have hoped. I do have to say it gave me quite The Darkest Minds 3/5 stars vibes, so I would recommend it to fans of that series.
Profile Image for Lindsay.
1,264 reviews222 followers
January 11, 2018
There is upheaval in the Unseen World, the secret community of magicians in New York, because the latest magical competition to determine the leading magician House has come at a time when magic itself is becoming unreliable. A powerful magician, Sydney, has appeared out of the House of Shadows, only the second person to ever emerge from that place. She's participating in the magic competition, the Turning, and representing an outsider trying to establish his own House. Meanwhile House Prospero and House Merlin are locked in a battle for control of the Unseen World that threatens both their families and maybe magic itself.

The start of this book is a bit of a trial with both a huge cast of point-of-view characters, lots of world-building and a complex political and familial power structure. It's a lot to absorb while the story builds at a fast pace. Personally, I found this made it difficult to care about most of the characters other than Sydney, and it seemed obvious that she was headed for a tragic end so I wasn't getting attached there anyway. Once I had a handle on what was going on, this did improve, but I think the damage was done.

Overall, I felt it needed more fleshing out, but it was a still a solid story.
Profile Image for Irmak ☾.
232 reviews51 followers
December 6, 2021
3.5 stars.

“Magic, at its heart, starts with sacrifice. You have to give up something to get something, and because magic is big, with all that it allows you access to, what you give up has to be big. It has to be meaningful.”

It was a capturing and compelling story and I actually thought it was quite different. Sydney was a great character and such a badass.

However, the story felt super disjointed. It jumped from scene to scene, from point to point without explanation or warning or anything of the sort.

The magic system was interesting, to say the least, but some of the characters fell flat for me.

Profile Image for Maja Ingrid.
449 reviews132 followers
November 18, 2020
4,5 stars

(but can I give the book +10 stars for the cover alone because it is gorgeous and also it's textured which gives it a 3D effect and I'm madly in love with it)

Wonderful plot that was a little bit twisted and little bit dark and writing so beautiful. Sometimes it felt like it was written directly onto my soul. However, as I mentioned in one of my updates (as well as in reviews for other books) I'm not fond of POV changes within a chapter. And this book does lot of it. But that's not the reason for the rounding down of rating.

For me, this could have been a 5 star if the book was longer for a few things. It was so much I wanted to learn more of, to see more of. I wanted to learn more about the houses. Both individually and the relations/rivalry between them. I wanted to learn more about this magical world. I also wanted more (major) characters to die to really feel the stakes of the plot. (but I did get some very satisfying deaths still). Some of the battles were really awestriking but many were way too short.

Also why are people liking this as an "adult harry potter"? I NEVER got those vibes. But if you want something dark and twisted, and like urban fantasy and magic battles, you should check this one out! I will definitely look up the author's other books.
Profile Image for Bethany (Beautifully Bookish Bethany).
2,055 reviews3,467 followers
January 11, 2020
An Unkindness of Magicians is a smart page-turner of an urban fantasy novel, and it works as a standalone! Set in New York City, the magical world is entering a period of upheaval as mage houses battle for political control. Dark secrets come to light and many players have their own agenda. Full of intrigue with a twisty plot and interesting characters, this fast-paced novel completely sucked me in.

Underlying themes include racism, oppression, and abuse of power, seamlessly woven into this thrilling narrative. I honestly don't want to say too much about it because it's probably better not knowing, but I highly recommend checking this one out. I'm so impressed at how much the author was able to put in this fairly small book! It's very tightly plotted, but without losing character development and world-building.

There are going to be a lot of content warnings here including murder, depictions of violence and gore, bloodletting, abuse of children, sexualized violence.
Profile Image for Ellie.
575 reviews2,123 followers
September 18, 2018
↠ 3.5 stars

Okay, so first of all I have to admit this one was a total cover buy for me, and I don't regret it, exactly, though it does remind me of the fact that every single time I choose a book solely on cover I end up a smidgen disappointed in some way. This book was good, but it could have been so much better.

An Unkindess of Magicians is set in modern-day New York, where magic thrives in the hidden Unseen World populated by magicians who mostly belong to Houses. Sound familiar? It's a bit like Cassandra Clare's The Mortal Instruments, minus demon-hunting Shadowhunters and Downworlders. It's also a bit like Chloe Neill's Chicagoland Vampires, except instead of Houses of vampires, there are Houses of magicians.

The worldbuilding I've outlined here isn't so clearly outlined in the book, and I started it with vague confusion that slowly cleared up throughout, but I'm still not entirely sure on some things. The book is set during a period called the Turning, where the magical world refreshes itself, and Houses may challenge each other for dominance, which is simple enough. The whole idea of it is really cool, and as you can tell, it had floods of potential, but I found that the worldbuilding was a bit bare and certainly could've benefited from a little more fleshing out, with more facts and details being included in the book.

In fact, the book overall was just a bit too bare. I felt the characters needed more development too. Sydney, the main character, verged on being an overpowered but bland heroine. She was certainly cool, but I didn't feel emotion for her. She could've been someone I would've easily rooted for (powerful female characters are my jam), but I didn't. She displayed kindness towards her friends, and this is something I did value in her, and other different facets of personality, so she wasn't completely flat, but she could've been much more. There is a large possibility this is me being picky, however, and she certainly was not a bad heroine, by any means.

On the other hand, the villain was, unfortunately for me, dull. He was a privileged white boy who just seemed to be throwing a tantrum because he couldn't get what he wanted, and I have no sympathy for those kind of men - whether they be characters, or in real life. He lacked the complexity that would've made him intriguing, however, and as such it was just sad.

On this note, there were parts were the book were actually quite gruesome. The villain is a murderer who was attacking women and killing them to remove their finger bones (as, in this novel, magic is cast primarily through the hands, so finger bones have the most residual magic, which is actually pretty cool.) Similarly, the magic in the novel is quite dark - instead of sourcing magic through themselves, most magicians choose to take magic from the House of Shadows. It is as creepy as it sounds, and it is a House that takes human beings and cuts up their shadows and bodies to provide magic. This book has a very dark underlayer. And the thing is, most magicians are aware their magic is being cut out of tortured people? And it would've served as an excellent commentary on privilege, for those who ignore the suffering of others just because it doesn't affect them. There was, as I said earlier, so much potential.

But! On a more positive note, plotting was good, as the narrative didn't drag, but it did feel very . . . choppy. It somewhat jumped about from one event to the other at points, and I felt it needed a bit of extra narrative injected between these jumpy movements just to smooth out the reader's ride just a little, to make it clearer what was going on (because sometimes, I honestly had little clue.) I also felt the sudden nature magic power-up halfway through was a bit . . . intriguingly dodgy, perhaps because I didn't fully understand it.

Additionally, this book also gave me Schwab vibes. The writing style was similar at points, and the idea of something supernatural (i.e. magic) in a contemporary world reminded me of Vicious. Also, An Unkindness of Magicians is led by a fierce and strong female heroine who was not unlike something Schwab would dream up, like a distant cousin of Marcella or Lila Bard.

All in all, it wasn't exactly what I had hoped. But it has displayed that Kat Howard as an author has some excellent ideas, and I will look further into her work to see if there's something in there that suits me better. One of her future releases is about a dying god and three sisters, and I think that sounds superb, so I will certainly be reading that and her upcoming short story collection.

TL;DR: Though not what I hoped, An Unkindness of Magicians had an interesting idea at its core that shows Kat Howard is an author with potential. 

This review is also available on my blog, faerieontheshelf.wordpress.com
Profile Image for mina.
685 reviews242 followers
November 20, 2019
buddy read with Hannah

I’m not sure how to rate this. On one hand I liked it, but on the other it lacked some important stuff like character depth and graceful storytelling.

The writing is one of the things I liked the most, it had that something that works for me, and it would’ve been magnificent if it wasn’t told in a choppy way—we are following the characters only in those moments that seem/are important and it’s not neatly sewn together; it looks more like an extra colorful quilt than a same-color-different-shade quilt that it was supposed to be (don’t ask why I’m comparing it to a quilt I don’t know).

I liked some of the characters, others I wanted to die a painful death, but no matter to which category they fitted I didn’t like how their POVs mixed. I understand giving a chapter to a character, and if I have to read a book with more POVs, that’s how I prefer it but here that wasn’t the case, for example the first chapter switched between 4-ish POVs. There are more than four characters so it gets real confusing who is who, because we don’t have time to get to know them between the constant jumping between the perspectives.

One of its problems is the many plots the book had; there’s a killer that takes finger bones, some revenge and a tournament involving magic (maybe there’s something else but these are just first that came to mind). Maybe all those plots wouldn’t be a problem if they were well developed and executed. I think the most frustrating thing were the anticlimactic resolutions of…problems .
Profile Image for Tilly Booth.
181 reviews938 followers
May 2, 2018
I shamelessly picked up this book for the cover...Come on, if you know me, i'm all about those aesthetic books. By the way, it has raised grooves. Who can say no to raised grooves?!

Luckily, this book was actually really, really good! I didn't go into this book with many expectation and I was super surprised by the plot of this story. I absolutely loved the concept of this book, set in the real world where a society of magicians who run their own households live amongst us. Every few decades, the houses will fight to determine who the leader of this society will be. Different houses will challenge other ones and when it get's closer to who the winner will be, it becomes a fight to the death. NOW the part that I loved the most about this is the magic itself. These magicians all draw from a power source but none of them really question where it has come from. Their parents and older generations has simply taught them how to draw this magic and not the mystery behind it. Let's just say, the magic isn't drawn from thin air, causing no pain to anyone.

The characters themselves were interesting. You had multiple perspectives from characters who would typically be called your 'good guy' and 'bad guy'. You had characters with flaws, realistic traits and many times reading this book, they felt human and not just someone written onto a page.

There was one thing that stopped this book being 5 stars for me but I can't tell you why without spoiling it!!! Let's just say, there's dark parts in this book that made me wince a little. The bad characters are like, murder someone bad, not just a mean person. Right from the beginning they're cruel and just, well, murderous. And it made me expect a little more towards the end.

Overall, i really enjoyed this book and i'd recommend it to anyone who wants an quick, fantasy read!
Profile Image for Book Riot Community.
953 reviews128k followers
September 27, 2017
Magic + New York City + Kat Howard = HEART EYES. Something is happening to the magic in NYC. No one understands it, except Sydney, a young magician with more power than has been seen in the city in decades. But Sydney doesn’t want to restore the city’s power – she wants to destroy it. This is a fun dark fantasy with a strong protagonist and lots of imagination.

Backlist bump: A City Dreaming by Daniel Polansky

Tune in to our weekly podcast dedicated to all things new books, All The Books: http://bookriot.com/listen/shows/allt...
Profile Image for Patricija - aparecium_libri.
515 reviews92 followers
April 1, 2020
First of my owls challenge is completed.
I am pleasantly surprised.
A fast, plot based, not too long book about magicians and rivalry.
I love Sydney as a character so much I'd put my hand in the fire for her. Totally reading the second book.
Profile Image for Chelsea.
316 reviews2,766 followers
November 30, 2018
This is such a unique dark little story. Howard somehow managed to craft a strange hybrid a between character driven and a plot driven story. It definitely reads like it’s plot driven but about characters if that makes sense. The entire story revolves around a cast of characters but I never really developed attachments to them or saw character growth, they just existed and did things to move the story forward. I’m confusing myself too...I know.

This is also a story that demands to be reread. You are thrown into the middle of so many things happening in a world that you know nothing about and you just figure hints and tidbits out as you go. Once the plot starts to become clear and unfold, it slaps you in the face and plunges onward. I feel like I just went on a ride that I only started to process by the end of it and wasn’t ready for it to end. Now I want to go back and start over to see all the clues dropped along the way. Unkindness has so many traits from some of my favorite stories too. The house system from Mistborn The Final Empire, a magic system similar to The Magicians, characters written like some great thrillers. Highly recommend.
Profile Image for  ~Preeti~.
678 reviews
August 12, 2021
Genre- Standalone Urban Fantasy/fantasy thriller.

This book is an excellent example of a
'Harry Potter book for the adult audience.  🤭🤭 
So we have an unseen magic world hiding within the heart of New York. This magic world is divided into different houses and every few years the wheel of fortune is turned called the 'The turning'
In this 'turning', these houses appoint their warriors/ magicians/wizards who fight each other and the winner's house gets political control till the next 'turning'.

We have power-thirsty politicians, estranged sons, killers, good guys, bad guys, people who are fighting for change and then we have people who want to continue the same system but one thing is common between all of them, that they all are schemers and have their agendas. Laurentis a black man, an outsider. He wants to prove himself and bring change in this magic world, so he appointsSydney as his candidate for The turning.

Sydney is enslaved by the house of shadow and wants to get free from these shackles so she plays the dual game. Ian is another candidate, son of the ruling house Merlin, but he too wants to change this magic world, so he decides to fight his own battles. Then, we have power-hungry, Gray.

The premise is fascinating, the narration is fast-paced, filled with horrendous details, dark magic, intriguing characters and sometimes depressing elements(they have a morning drink called blood orange juice😖😖). We have lots of different POVs and every character has a voice, even the house has a voice.🤭🤭 

I know it's difficult to establish a magic world in a standalone book but Kat Howard did it quite successfully. I loved it and thoroughly enjoyed the pace and lots of magic spells.😇😇

Profile Image for Cher.
801 reviews275 followers
November 4, 2017
4 stars - It was great. I loved it.

While it’s her sophmoric novel, this book had the feel of a debut novel in that the characters were not as deeply developed as I would have liked and certain plot events felt too rushed. But, it was an engaging, fun read with a storyline that would be perfect for a movie or TV series. I enjoyed the time I spent in the world the author created and look forward to reading works from her in the future.
Favorite Quote: Noticed...is very different from seen.

First Sentence: The young woman cut through the crowded New York sidewalk like a knife.
Profile Image for RG.
3,090 reviews
January 13, 2018
Kinda like if gossip girl and a more mature harry potter world collided haha. Solid plotting and ok world building but I found the characters a little bland.
Profile Image for Ali.
77 reviews8 followers
September 10, 2021
This book was absolutely terrible.

I LOVE magical tournaments. This is one of my favorite plots to see authors put their own twist on. I love seeing authors use their own characters, magic systems, rules, and world-building to make unique magical tournaments. Too bad these characters get absolutely no time to connect with the readers. While reading, I didn't have a single care to give about who won and who died in this magical competition. The competition and magic can be as intricate as you want it to be, but it really doesn't matter if you don't even care about the characters who are competing. The pacing is also something to be worked on, and I'll talk about this more in a bit. But, the characters have literally no time to get to be known by the reader. The author had a habit of telling, not showing. We're TOLD that Sydney wants revenge and has a traumatic past, but hell if she ever acts like it. This was typical plot-based storytelling. All of the characters are pawns who move around a chessboard. We're told Sydney wants revenge, hates Shadows, and so she destroys Shadows, but it would be asking for too much to have her actually show these emotions. There is absolutely no hint that any of these characters actually feel the pain, sorrow, or anger that we're told they feel.

The pacing is also terrible. I absolutely don't mind books that put you right in the middle of what's happening. I don't mind books that make you figure things out for yourself or only tell you things when they're absolutely necessary. Some books do it well while others don't. This is one of the ones that does not do it well. There's a difference between an author purposefully withholding information from the readers for mystery and suspense and an author just not knowing what they're talking about. This book...it's like the author just forgot to explain things. This book felt more like a fanfiction of a real book that takes place in the unseen world. You know how in fanfictions you don't have to do things like worldbuilding or explaining of concepts because the readers already know the cannon? It's like the author just forgot that this was a published novel rather than a fanfic.

When you write a book where you're intentionally making the reader figure out the world, you have to leave them little clues and rewards throughout the book. You have to make them actually want to come back and figure out more - make them feel like they're on the right track by explaining little bits as you go. This author just doesn't make any effort explain anything to you to a fault, and the result is an extremely boring plot in a world that's barely explained with no foresight that it'll get any better or any easier. Everyone says that there's this big reveal in the middle of the book that puts everything into perspective and makes it all suddenly worth the read. I know exactly what that part is - it's when they explain what Shadows is. And you know what? It IS a big reveal. We learn this along with many of the characters, so it should feel like a big plot point, and we should feel rewarded and like we've been building up to this point. BUT, since we're following an unexplained magical tournament being competed by characters about as interesting as white bread in a world that the author just farted on rather than explaining, it kind of makes this reveal really uninteresting! You don't feel like you've been building up to anything. We don't come to care for the characters or houses or world at all!
Profile Image for Melanie.
552 reviews291 followers
May 12, 2022
This really surprised. I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would. Nearly a 5 star, but for one little niggle, that is so petty I won't even spell it out.
Profile Image for Monica (crazy_4_books).
683 reviews114 followers
July 14, 2021
If you're familiar with the cruel and rich characters of the movie Cruel Intentions, the you get the reference. Merphy Napier on her channel does a much better analysis of this book that I could do. I'm not as qualified as her to do it justice mainly because I'm new in the fantasy genre.
As far as my knowledge goes, this book is a low-urban fantasy mystery/thriller set in New York in the present time.
I've read complaints about trigger warnings for abuse against women. It's true, but it isn't rape or explicit content, so I agree about the trigger warning; however, it didn't prevent me from enjoying this ride. And it's a wild ride. This is NOT Harry Potter. It's a dark, violent, cruel story. With an ending that I liked, but I guess not everyone will like it. As I say, there is a lot of violence, murder, cruelty in general. Not for children. There are a lot of characters, I know that bothered some readers, but it didn't bother me. I could follow very easily and fast the story line without getting lost. I finished it in a day. It's impossible to put down. It isn't creepy to the point of scary. I don't read horror. There're scenes that are actually funny too.
I don't get why this book is not as popular as it should be, it's very underrated. Thanks Merphy for talking non-stop about it. I'll recommend it to everyone on my list who either like fantasy, or thriller. Just beware of the content. Highly recommend this one!
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