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Unnatural Magic

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Onna can write the parameters of a spell faster than any of the young men in her village school. But despite her incredible abilities, she’s denied a place at the nation’s premier arcane academy. Undaunted, she sails to the bustling city-state of Hexos, hoping to find a place at a university where they don’t think there’s anything untoward about providing a woman with a magical education. But as soon as Onna arrives, she’s drawn into the mysterious murder of four trolls.

Tsira is a troll who never quite fit into her clan, despite being the leader’s daughter. She decides to strike out on her own and look for work in a human city, but on her way she stumbles upon the body of a half-dead human soldier in the snow. As she slowly nurses him back to health, an unlikely bond forms between them, one that is tested when an unknown mage makes an attempt on Tsira’s life. Soon, unbeknownst to each other, Onna and Tsira both begin devoting their considerable talents to finding out who is targeting trolls, before their homeland is torn apart…

388 pages, Paperback

First published November 5, 2019

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About the author

C.M. Waggoner

2 books384 followers
C.M. Waggoner grew up in rural upstate New York, where she spent a lot of time reading fantasy novels in a swamp. She studied creative writing at SUNY Purchase and lived in China for eight years before moving with her husband to Albany, NY. In her spare time, she volunteers, performs kitchen experiments, asks if she can pet your dog, and gardens badly. You can voice your complaints to the management (or sign up for her mailing list) at cmwaggoner.com.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 631 reviews
Profile Image for Miranda Reads.
1,589 reviews154k followers
December 9, 2020
I have read my way through 315 books to bring you my Top 10 Books of the Year.

Now you know that this one made the cut, check out my video review to see the others!

P.s. I did another video about this one - I couldn't resist.

Happy Pride Month y'all! Click the link to check out my favorite PRIDE books
The Written Review

The crowd parted for her. Always did. They might scream, but they weren't stupid.
On the one hand, we have Onna.

A wonderfully brilliant, Hermione-esque girl spends all her free time working her parameters (mathematical spells).

She's laser-focused her entire childhood on training her mind in order to go the finest arcane academy of the land....only things do not go to plan.
...because it wasn't fair, it wasn't fair that she could be clever and polite and work hard and mind her elders and smile prettily and mind her dresses and clean her nails and chew every bite twenty times and do everything that every adult had ever told her...
But soon she finds, failure often leads to entirely different adventures.

And then we have Tsira.

Tsira, a troll, is part of the magical class...but owing to her human father, doesn't have any magic of her own.

She wants to be a reig (a dominant partner in a troll relationship) but everyone, even her own mother, says she should just be a vahn (a submissive partner, the one more likely to stay home and garden).

So when a human man shows up on her doorstep, half dead from the cold and limping profusely...she finds herself...intrigued by the fluttery, flustered oddball.

And he...finds himself equally...intrigued by this hulking brute of a troll who kindly takes him in.

And while their mutual...intrigued-ness...is fine for when they are isolated in a cabin, it's a far different when they attempt to step out into the real world.
Humans did not become infatuated with trolls.
But go they must, for something horrifying is happening.
"Some moth's been murdering border-trolls, cutting them up laboratory specimens."
And it will take more than one thuggish troll and a fast talking human to figure this out.

Okay. So first of all, I LOVED (and I mean LOVED) this book. So much.

But, if I'm being perfectly honest ...I loved half of it significantly more. It's still love throughout, just weighted slightly to one side.

The story with Onna was well-written, it's just, I've heard it before. A brilliant girl, a sexist society, finding ways to work her way around.

Maybe it's because I just came off a long string of such themed books...but I just wasn't super gripped by it. I was certainly intrigued and invested but not I'm-going-to-die-if-I-don't-finish level.

But, the more I think about it...it's more likely that I just loved the other half so much.

Tsira and Jeckran completely ran with the story for me.

(aside: guys. I'm actually *gushing* over this couple....like I haven't felt this since ACOTAR)

They were such an atypical pairing - a strong (literally and figuratively) take-no-sh!t Tsira with a fast-talking wheeling and dealing human. It was obscenely adorable.

I loved the dynamic between the two, the way she'd loom over him, mess with him and manipulate (and I mean that in the cutest way) him to get what she wants.
She liked hearing him talk all right, but liked shutting him up even better.
Their relationship felt so fresh and exciting. Finally, a dynamic I haven't seen played over and over.
It was a confoundly uncomfortable thing to be in love.
If I'm being perfectly honest, the entire book could've just been Tsira and Jeckran in their cabin, or venturing off into the world together and I would've been happy - overjoyed even.

The plot itself was pretty cool - I liked how Onna's story and Tsira's started off so separately and wove closer and closer together.

It did feel quite a bit rushed at the end, but I did enjoy the buildup so much that I didn't mind too much.

BUT the worst part was that the ending was too happy.

It was all wrapped up and nothing left for a sequel (or not in the way I had hoped).

I'm devastated.

I want a series, not a standalone

(and yes, I would've paid good money for ).

Ah well. All I can do is cross my fingers and hope for the future.
"Ready for a fight, Pink?"
"Never," he said.
With thanks to the publisher and author for a free copy in exchange for an honest review. All quotes come from an uncorrected proof and are subject to change upon publication

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Profile Image for Nilufer Ozmekik.
2,133 reviews39.3k followers
January 9, 2022
Easily likeable, relatable, smartly-developed characters, lots of magic, super powers plus amazing girl power, intriguing, hooking plot, entertaining, smart, different and attention capturing writing and a great start as a debut author!

As a summary: I enjoyed it, I liked it, without thinking a second giving my four stars.

Fantasy is a risky genre because there is so many YA fantasy books have been releasing and there is a tough, merciless competition between the books. There are so many PR campaigns and advertisements on the social media talking about those books and their blurbs to seek your attention to pre-order them immediately. Especially so many successful and reputational authors release their new series and you expect too much from them but you may see some most anticipated books turn into big disappointments and some indie, new authors’ debut novels may turn into amazing hits.

This book is not a big hit but it is fresh, different approach with simple, entertaining way of story-telling, at some parts the pacing is getting slower but at the end with easily expectable twists, pacing is getting faster and action parts get the control of the book.

Best thing about the book: Simple, clear not so complicating story with less but strong characters: Onna is a gifted and smart girl attends to magic school and discovers her more secret powers, finds herself to solve troll murders teaming up with Tsira, king’s daughter who is having hard time to find her identity and adapt her family life.

Surprisingly I enjoyed Tsira and Jeckran’s connection ( troll and human close relationship, but trust me you root for them)

It’s a good book to get lost in magical world to get away from your daily stressful life and let the characters give you quick ride at the different kind of universes. Last quarter of the book is really fast paced, even haphazard and sudden ending makes your head spin because you got used to spend time and connect with the characters so I wished I could read more about their stories.

As I admitted before it is above the average, different, original book with witty, riveting, not unputdownable but there is no reason to put down or stop reading kind of enjoyable journey. I wish I can read more upcoming works of this brilliant writer.

Special thanks to Netgalley and Berkley Publishing Group to share this fascinating ARC COPY in exchange my honest review. I always enjoy to discover new writers and their brand new amazing works.
Profile Image for Sophie.
458 reviews186 followers
December 23, 2019
This book had potential but the plot and characters just fell so flat. The plot was meandering in the background. The book had dual points of view and the most memorable thing about one of the perspectives was that the romance was essentially a much less violent version of Jaime/Brienne, so I'd recommend this for fans of the show who were disappointed with how that ended up. The other point of view, I basically forgot about her until she popped up again, and she ultimately felt more like she existed to serve the other PoV's plot.

This was the author's debut book so I would be willing to check out more books in the future.
Profile Image for Jamie Dacyczyn.
1,582 reviews88 followers
February 22, 2023
(2021 edit to add that I keep seeing this book, thinking it looks great, then checking Goodreads and remembering that I already read it and really hated parts of it. Dammit.)

*growls in trollish frustration*

This book started out feeling like it was going to be a 4-5 star delight, but lost the plot a bit along the way. I was initially thrilled by this fantasy world; the writing felt smooth and effortless to read, while still containing some whimsy and lovely visuals. The world had a Victorianish feel in that people behave and speak in a rather proper manner, but at the same time both men and women wear skirts in varying lengths (depending on the style) and there is some decidedly un-Victorian technology in the works. There's also mathematically defined magic (hence the technology)....and trolls, who exist alongside humans, though with their own cultural norms.

Gender and relationships have some unique world-building here. In human culture, men and women get married, but they may also practice householdry, where additional adults may join the union as additional partners (though perhaps in more of a "kept" way? It's barely explained), and this is regarded as a respectable way to live. Among trolls, gender is much less about what biological parts you have, but are instead about whether you're a "reig" (clan leader) or a "vahn", which is basically a genderless term for a wife-figure (biologically male or female). Reigs may have many vahns who serve a variety of wifely roles, and may include humans.

We've got four principle characters, and the chapters alternate POVs among the first three:

Onna: a human girl who is unusually gifted at working out parameters for magic, and wants desperately to attend wizard school.

Tsira: a half-human/half-troll physically-androgynous reig who lives alone because she's not really accepted among her troll family, who expect her to "declare vahn" and clan herself to a reig. However, she know she's a reig herself, and so she ends up being a bit of an outcast.

Jeckran: a human officer in the army sent with a regiment to investigate a rampaging troll. In the heat of conflict, he deserts his men, breaks his ankle, and is found by Tsira. She takes him in and nurses him back to health.

Loga: This almost-Howl-ish character appears nearer to the end of the book. He's the most powerful human wizard in the land and while also investigating a string of murdered trolls.

All of this introduction stuff was interesting and felt well written, so I buckled myself in to read a great book. However.....at the end I just felt a bit deflated.

I found myself most drawn to Onna's POV, but she ultimately only took up about 25% of the narrative. The bigger part of the story was about the relationship that develops between Tsira and Jeckran. Troll/human romances aren't unheard of in their land, and she's only HALF troll anyway. It took me a while to get my head around the romantic logistics of her being nearly two feet taller than him, but eventually I was like, "Ehh, love comes in all kinds of different forms. Plus, it's neat to have a romance where the female is the dominant, physically-stronger one.........right?"

Onna eventually meets with Loga, and they begin investigating the murders of trolls in the area. Meanwhile, Jeckran and Tsira ALSO try to get to the bottom of who's been murdering trolls in the borderlands. Eventually, both pairs team up (about 100 pages before the end) and they all begin working together. Unfortunately, this overall plot felt a bit weak. Like the author had this idea for these characters and could visualize their relationships with one another very well, but didn't quite have a good plot just yet, so had to tack in this troll-murder business. The villain turned out to be

All of that would still have been FINE, and I probably would have given this 4 stars anyway for the overall interesting and unique world building...but there was one aspect that made me cringe over and over throughout this book, and ultimately left a disgusted scowl on my face by the end.

While I could accept the interspecies romance between Jackran and Tsira, I found that I couldn't really get on board with how it was portrayed. Not only was their relationship physically uneven, but the power dynamic between the two felt very off kilter as well. Tsira often referred to Jackran has "her pink" (pink being the rather condescending name for humans that trolls use) and seemed to view him as rather childlike. She'd carry him around and ruffle his hair. Ok, even then....well, she comes from a culture where reigs are in charge, and their vahns are submissive, so it's just a different culture that I have to get my head around? Fine. What REALLY made me cringe was the.....crudeness? I guess? I'm going to hide this behind spoilers so that I can discuss it frankly and more delicate readers can just skim past.


It's like two different books got mashed together to end up with this sad hybrid. Uggghhhh!!!

*flips over table in disgust*

This book came SO CLOSE to being great. Like, a 4 star review for a fantasy book for me is "I really liked it, and I might even buy it for my own collection." But I just...can't. Not with that whole element that I found to be such a turn off. I really really wish the ratios were inverted. I wanted MORE of Onna and Loga working together, and less of Jeckran and Tsira lusting after each others' disproportionate bods. Heck, even if just the unnecessarily crude stuff was taken out, I'd have gone for a 4 star with this book. If the POVs had been balanced better and if the plot had stayed stronger and not devolved into Jeckran and Tsira lusting after each others' disproportionate bods, then I was ready to embrace this as a 5 star book. Decent writing, inventive world building, plucky heroine of color, interesting gender dynamics, action and adventure! It's all HERE....unfortunately, Jeckran and Tsira lusting after each others' disproportionate bods got in the way of a pretty good book.

I'm so furious and disappointed with how this turned out.

*le dégoûté sigh*
Profile Image for Samir Rawas Sarayji.
444 reviews84 followers
January 21, 2020
DNF halfway through... what a shame. It started out strong with interesting characters, original magic concept, quirky relationships and an unusual plot for a fantasy book... great. But not for long. We quickly see slips in the writing quality, a lack of consistency with voice, the plot is a MacGuffin, the fantasy takes a backdrop while the romance is forefront, and frankly, it becomes just plain boring.

There are two story threads, the more interesting Onna is about 25% of the novel compared to the, at-first adorable, and then irritating couple Tsira and Jeckran who occupy 75% of the novel. The dialogue becomes banter and mundane really fast, and the plot is weak and mainly forgotten. It read more like a slice-of-life fantasy of these characters who quickly became uninteresting.

Mostly, the writer tries too hard to incorporate different ideas in one setting at the expense of proper story development and quality writing.

As if this is not enough, I find the price tag for this paperback ridiculous.
Profile Image for Lata.
3,509 reviews187 followers
February 22, 2021
This was fantastic. With two, slowly unfurling storylines, with characters in different parts of Waggoner’s world, we learn of the divisions in the societies, the economic and racial tensions and intolerances, which play a large part in the storylines.
In one, young Onna, who is a genius at math and consequently magic, dreams of being accepted into a particular well-regarded school. When she meets intolerance because of her gender, Onna decides to travel to Hexos, where the Wizard Loga will be holding trials for an apprentice. She travels there, and soon dazzles him with her spell making, and also learns of unsolved, brutal murders of trolls. Onna decides to investigate.
Meanwhile, we meet Tsira, a troll who is the daughter of clan head but has no desire to be one herself. She rescues a man, Jekran, who's a deserter from the army, which has been on the hunt for trolls.
After a Wizard attempts to kill Tsira, she and Jekran decide to investigate, eventually travelling to Hexos, where the three characters eventually meet.

I loved this book! This character-driven story with great world building just made me happy. The plot takes its time, allowing us to get a great feel fir the different peoples and the world, and to fall in love with Onna and Tsira. I don't have intelligent, analytical things to say about this book right now, as I'm still in the "I loved this book!" phase.
Profile Image for Lauren Stoolfire.
3,475 reviews259 followers
November 15, 2019
I received an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Unnatural Magic by C.M. Waggoner is a refreshingly standalone fantasy novel with a brilliant cast of characters and intriguing magic system. I can honestly say that I'd love to see more of this world in the future, whether it's a spin off or companion novel. While I loved getting to know all of the diverse characters who pop right off the page, I became the most attached to Onna who has a great arc. I particularly appreciated her intelligence and focus. The magic system is very clever with complex math, physics, and chemistry like magic. Overall, I can't recommend C.M. Waggoner's debut novel enough. There's so much to love about this uniquely riveting adventure and I can't recommend it enough. I can't wait to see what this author will do next!
Profile Image for Mogsy (MMOGC).
2,008 reviews2,597 followers
November 25, 2019
4 of 5 stars at The BiblioSanctum https://bibliosanctum.com/2019/11/23/...

Unnatural Magic was a solid read that was hard to pin down at times, but once you learn how to go with the flow, the book might end up surprising you in the best way possible. A novel which strives to tackle traditional fantasy in a fresh and unique way, C.M. Waggoner’s debut offers a cleverly transformative tale that explores love, ambition, and the tenacity of spirit in finding acceptance.

Set in a world where humans and trolls co-exist, albeit not always peacefully, Unnatural Magic opens on a setting which feels vaguely turn-of-the-century gaslamp, starting with an introduction to the first of our major characters, Onna Gebowa. From an early age, she has displayed an aptitude for magic, though achieving her dreams of attending the premiere academy of arcane arts will be difficult, given the male-dominated field. After being rejected, Onna decides to forge her own path, traveling to the city of Hexos where they will be more appreciative of her extraordinary talent and skills.

Meanwhile in another part of the world, Tsira is a half-troll who is also planning for a journey to Hexos. Despite being daughter of the clan leader, she has always been regarded as a bit of an outsider, and Tsira has had enough, choosing instead to leave her people and strike out on her own to find work among the humans. On the way to the city though, she saves the life of Jeckran, a human soldier who has been wounded and left for dead in the snow. As Tsira nurses him back to health, the two of them grow closer and eventually become lovers, continuing on to Hexos together.

While the ties linking Onna and Tsira’s storylines are still tenuous at this point, they quickly become more apparent when a brutal string of murders bring human and troll relations to a near state of war. Trolls are being targeted by the killer or killers, and Onna is on a mission to find out who and why. Personally affected by the killings, Tsira also throws herself into the investigation, with Jeckran loyal by her side.

As I said, once you get into the rhythm of things, Unnatural Magic can be absolutely delightful. It has the sprawling feel of an epic fantasy, but also features an intriguing mystery at its heart. The human-troll politics of this world were interesting too, and Waggoner has created a troll culture that feels well-crafted, robust, and replete with lore and history. The two societies differ in the way they view magic, but they also have very different expectations and ideals when it comes to certain social behaviors and gender roles. Nothing illustrates this better than the relationship between Tsira and Jeckran, who are looked upon with morbid curiosity or downright contempt wherever they go. Falling outside the norms of both cultures, their romance nonetheless works well for them, though like all couples they had to go through an adjustment period.

Then there’s Onna, whom I confess I had a hard time liking at the beginning. Ineffectual and timid, perpetually on the verge of bursting into tears, she was an infuriating character who was utterly lacking in self-agency. It’s like, come on, girl! You’re smart and you can out-magic all the men in the room, grow some backbone and stop letting everyone trample all over you! But quickly it became clear the author was setting up for Onna’s eventual transformation and growth. Gradually, her character comes into her own and becomes a force to be reckoned with, taking on a more authoritative role. By the end of the book, she’s a completely different person.

But now, time for the part I dread most in which I talk about the book’s weaknesses. Not too surprisingly, this being a debut, there were a few hitches. While there was plenty to love when it came to the ideas in world-building, I could have done with more actual descriptions of the setting. I often had a difficult time picturing the characters’ surroundings, especially when they were in the city which felt more like a cobbled-together backdrop rather than a living, breathing hub. At times it also felt like Waggoner got carried away, trying to pack too much into the plot. This affected the pacing, and quite honestly, some of the early parts of the book were a slog because it took so long for the crux of the novel to emerge. It wasn’t until both Onna and Tsira’s storylines started linking up that the writing became tighter and the plot became more streamlined, around halfway through the book. I also want to make a note about the sex and the swearing. I take no issue with either in general, but some of it was written so awkwardly and felt so out-of-place that most of it just struck me as awfully self-indulgent.

But overall, I have to say I enjoyed myself. While certain aspects could have used a few tweaks, on the whole Unnatural Magic was quite brilliant and solid for a debut. With experience and time, many new authors will iron out a lot of issues in their writing, and with that said, I think C.M. Waggoner is definitely a name to keep an eye on.
Profile Image for Lindsay.
1,248 reviews219 followers
February 5, 2020
Parallel stories tracing murders in a fantasy world make for a thoughtful but quite slow experience.

Onna is a brilliant mage hoping for entry at a prestigious university only to stumble during the examination process because of prejudice against women learning magic. Facing the ruin of her ambitions, Onna resolves to travel to the far-off city of Hexos where she hopes to continue her studies. But once there she gets involved in an investigation into the gruesome murder of trolls.

Tsira is the half-human half-troll daughter of her village's clan-head, but has struggled to find acceptance in that community. During her travels she comes across a wounded soldier, a young human nobleman, and they strike up a friendship. But Tsira and Jeckran soon discover that someone is killing trolls and making off with their body parts.

The world-building here is superb, with the trolls being a long-lived and more magically advanced people that are also physically superior to humans. The nature of the relations between the trolls and the more-numerous humans is fascinating, with fear, jealousy and greed all playing parts. The politics is quite interesting. Even more interesting are the differences in cultures between the two races, particularly including how the trolls differ from humans in terms of "gender". With trolls, whether they're male or female is much less important than whether they're a reig or a vahn (roughly leader/provider and follower/submissive). The ongoing relationship between Tsira and Jeckran beautifully illustrates it and brings out a lot in both characters.

Yes, the story is incredibly slow. Tsira/Jeckran and Onna don't meet until the last part of the book, and it's far from clear for most of it that the book is even primarily about resolving the troll murders. I would say the resolution was actually quite obvious from early on ... but I still don't really care. The delight of spending time with beautifully realized characters makes up for all of that.
Profile Image for PlotTrysts.
561 reviews161 followers
February 22, 2022
This is almost gaslamp fantasy but not quite - set in a land with late Victorian-levels of technology but with a completely different social structure. The highlight of the book for us is the romance between Tsira and Jeckran. It investigates gender, sexuality, and culture clashes in a fascinating and wonderful way. Love this.
Profile Image for Amanda .
432 reviews153 followers
November 14, 2019
You can also read my review here: https://devouringbooks2017.wordpress....

Review: 5 stars

Unnatural Magic is a book I have wanted ever since I first heard of it. A while back I had read Amanda Hocking’s Trylle series and ever since then I have wanted to find more books about trolls. I had high hopes of going into reading this boo, but I had no idea just how much I would love this story. Unnatural Magic was truly a magical read and I can’t explain how enjoyable my reading experience really was.

The characters were what made this book so special. Onna was my favorite character. I loved her personality from the start, but watching her grow throughout the book into a confident young wizard made my heart happy. Jekran and Tsaria were also really entertaining to read about and I enjoyed how the point of view switched between the two plot lines. It took a long time for the plot lines to converge, so for a while it felt lie you got two books in one in the best way possible. I loved the way that trolls were depicted in this story. Their rich culture was interesting, but I also loved how they didn’t focus on gender as much as they did roles in society.

I think the thing that I loved the most about Unnatural Magic was the magic system. Magic wasn’t simple in this book, it took writing mathematical parameters and then executing them. The way it was described was so unique and very different from any other book I had ever read about magic. The possibilities were endless and I loved that in order to be good at magic wizards had to be really intelligent. The details included about the magic system and how it worked really helped bring the story to life.

I am a little disappointed because it looks like this might be a stand alone novel, but at the same time the story did feel complete. This is one of the few books that I would love to re-read and hope to introduce to many of my friends. This book had me so emotionally invested and filled me with so much joy. I’m just sad that I finished it.
Profile Image for Eryn.
128 reviews
July 8, 2019
This book took me away. It took me away to an exciting and fascinating world where trolls are the dominant species and have an entirely different view on gender roles and still need to learn to live with inferior but still mighty humans.

I loved Onna's physics/chemistry-like magic. I *LOVED* the relationship between Tsira and Jeckran (never thought I'd be shipping a troll and a human, but here I am). Even more I appreciated the societal roles in troll society like Reig and Vahn, and how a Reig could be male or female, a Vahn troll or human. There's a lot of interesting stuff in here, and I read this quickly.

So, yes, maybe the ending is rushed, but honestly, these characters are wonderful and the world is wonderful. The murder mystery is tangential.

Read it.
Profile Image for Emma.
2,394 reviews824 followers
August 3, 2021
4.5 stars. This was a lot of fun and a bit different. The characters were engaging and the writing was witty.
Profile Image for Katie Montgomery.
294 reviews190 followers
October 8, 2019
If you have a Sorcerer to the Crown shaped hole in your heart, Y'ALL, THIS IS THE ONE. Overlaps include:

*period appropriate prose
*melanin ahoy
*a richly built-out world that elegantly avoids insane amounts of exposition
*thoughtful examination of privilege, gender, and genre norms
*super queer
*strong, sassy heroines whom the gentlemen struggle to keep up with
*witty repartee, in which members of the nobility are regularly sassed
*magical colleges and/or general graduate-level spell nerdery
*a really fascinating premise that neatly sidesteps cliches whilst still making total sense to me as a lover of genre

Two major differences you should be aware of:
-This is a secondary world fantasy, not an alternate history. BUT it is a secondary world which bears a remarkable resemblance to 19th or early 20th century Europe.
-CM is NOT fading to black, y'all, there are some sexytimes in this here novel.

Profile Image for Para (wanderer).
356 reviews191 followers
August 27, 2022
Thanks to the publisher (Ace) for the ARC of this book.

Unnatural Magic was, until now, my oldest unread ARC. I remember I picked it up once and put it down again very soon, not in the mood. But I’m glad that I tried again because I really really enjoyed it. The worldbuilding had a few interesting twists, the main romantic subplot hit my specific buttons, but unfortunately, it was plagued by a mess of a plot.

Onna, a magical prodigy, desperately wants to become a wizard, but in her part of the world, she simply does not have the right connections (and isn’t a man), so she cannot get into the magical school. Instead, she sails off to Hexos, where she quickly finds herself apprenticed. Elsewhere, a troll called Tsira finds an injured human soldier lying in the snow. After nursing him back to health, they quickly grow close. Oh, and a wizard is murdering trolls.

The worldbuilding was my favourite part. It’s clear that a lot of time and thought was spent on it, the magic, the relations between humans and trolls, the religion. And it’s queernorm. Anyone can get married or “householded” to anyone, many characters are gay or bi, and trolls don’t understand gender the same way humans do.

But if you think “how does all of that plot come together” you’d be right – it was strangely disjointed. The POV characters don’t meet and the three plotlines (Onna’s magic studies, Jeckran and Tsira’s romance, the murders) don’t converge until almost the very end. In short, three quarters in, it still had the feeling of an intro, which is ridiculous. Onna’s plot, also, seemed so central at first with how we follow her since she was a child (no wonder that many people expected it to be MG/YA…which it is not), but it took a backseat rather fast. The mystery subplot felt slapdash, especially at the end. I usually love mysteries, but it was not well done at all. I’m fine with meandering if it’s enjoyable enough, and it was here, but I am questioning some of the choices made. It did not cohere.

Despite that, it was really fun to read. Plenty of banter, I liked the world and the characters enough to keep me hooked, and the romance had a lot of both of them taking care of each other, which is my absolute favourite romance trope. Plus, Tsira is a lot bigger and stronger than Jeckran, which is always nice to see.

Do I recommend? That depends. If you want something light and are willing to overlook poor plotting, go ahead. And I will gladly read the other book set in the same universe, perhaps even soon.

Enjoyment: 4/5
Execution: 2.5/5

Recommended to: those looking for fun, easy to read books set in a queernorm world, especially if you also like romance where the woman is the strong one and the man the pretty one
Not recommended to: those easily annoyed by plot issues, fans of mysteries

More reviews on my blog, To Other Worlds.
Profile Image for Kaycee Sterling.
235 reviews13 followers
September 26, 2019
This book gave me so much more than I was expecting. Two stories, two amazing female leads, and two completely different adventures but it all comes together to make one amazing read. As one might expect, trolls and humans/wizards are very different species but live in a world together in mostly harmony until Trolls start getting murdered by wizards.

Tsira is a half-Troll who goes out on her own to prove her worth to her clan. She saves a man named Jeckran and their relationship blooms into more than just a friendship. Onna is a gifted and talented wizard but as a female she is held back from reaching her full potential. With the support of her family and her determination to achieve her goals she gets farther than she ever imaged. Tsira is blunt and a little foul mouth. Onna is polite, dutiful, and doesn’t go against society rules. But they have more in common than they might think, and they are both determined to bring justice to the victims and put an end to the murders.

This book was wonderfully written and incredibly unique. I really enjoyed the personalities of each of the characters. I also love a book with multiple POV’s.

I won this book in a Goodreads giveaway and a few days later I was approved to read it through Netgalley so I would like to thank the publisher, Goodreads, and Netgalley for allowing me to read this book for an honest review.
Profile Image for CC.
432 reviews
January 23, 2022
Oof- I had high expectations for this book. And it fell flat. Let me explain:

Trisa & Pink/Jeckran storyline:

I’ve read YA fantasy before and wished was more adult. But this is the first book I’ve read, and wished it would have more of a MG vibe.
I wanted to love this concept, but I uh, didn’t need the troll/human sexy talk. It just really took me out of story.
Like it started off cute but then like intensely not very quickly.
Also, the trolls are supposed to be super smart, but still aren’t as articulate as the humans? The cave-like voice was too much for me. And if you looked at this book cover, and I told you there was lots of f-bombs, would you believe that? No, it’s like the illustrator only read 1/2 of the book. (Side note, I’m not a prude! 😂 I just thought it was not needed. Or make up your own swear words, it’s a fake world anyways. 🤷🏽‍♀️😏)

1/5 stars

Oona/ Wizard storyline:

I actually found this storyline pretty amusing when it really explored the magic system. But it didn’t push the subject as far as I wanted it to. Overall, this plot was average in the sea of magic books out there.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Kitty Marie.
183 reviews38 followers
November 10, 2019
Unnatural Magic is a unique and mature fantasy debut with two distinct viewpoints occuring in different regions. The setting and atmosphere brings to mind a sort of victorian era, but imbued with magic. This is the first time I’ve ever read a fantasy novel that was quite fixated on trolls living among and communicating with humans harmoniously. The trolls in Unnatural Magic are broader and stronger than humans. They have a matriarchal culture that contrasts interestingly with the the patriarchal one of humans.

The first viewpoint is Onna’s, she is a young human woman- a studious pupil of magic who wishes to attend an elite magic academy. She’s rejected entry, mainly due to a preference for wizards over witches that prevails in her culture. Undeterred, she travels far and is finally recognized- becoming the protege of a gifted magician with a mysterious past. Together, they are looking for a murderer who has been targeting trolls and threatening the relative peace the two races have been starting to attain.

I almost DNF’d this book early on after reading a few of Onna’s chapters. The writing during her sections aims for a sort of elegance that came off as too decorated, and full of technical world building info dumps that I found barely digestible. The plot during Onna’s sections can be summed up quickly, and I found myself barely able to stand the world of humans in this book. Their conversations, their stuffy culture, even Onna is sadly bland more often than not in the way she carries herself and her thought processes.

However, there is a whole other perspective- that of a troll named Tsira and a human soldier Jeckran. On the cusp of DNF’ing, I encountered these chapters and was immersed. The writing style during these sections is more free-flowing (if often crude) and by far more eventful. Tsira is likable and fascinating. The way she and Jeckran interact is startlingly unique, as they come from very different regions yet grow close after traveling together on what starts off as a thrillingly dangerous journey. Tsira is a powerful warrior and future leader, Jeckran is a sort of damsel-in-distress who is eventually able to hold his own and is enamored by Tsira’s strength.

Their relationship is a real inversion of traditional roles, bringing something very unconventional that I’ve never seen focused so closely upon in fantasy. Once their adventure was fully underway, even Onna’s chapters became easier to read as I tried to focus on the many creative tidbits that merge to create a full picture of this world.

This is a case where the amount of effort that went into this book is so noticeable and admirable, but certain larger plot elements that should have been fascinating and garner much interest (the murder mystery that plays a role from beginning to end, unmasking the culprit) just left me cold and not that interested. The ending is also weirdly abrupt. Overall, a mixed bag.

Overall Rating – 6/10

Why You Should Try It – Highly detailed and unusual world, trolls and humans being the main focus. The cultural norms developed here are well developed and contrast in an interesting way. I liked Tsira and Jeckran. The highly differing styles of the two stark viewpoints (Onna vs Tsira & Jeckran) show great versatility.

Why You Might Not Like It – I didn’t care for Onna and her companions, the style of her chapters was consistently unappealing. The climax called for more excitement. The writing can serious plod in a stuffy sort of way.

Note : Thank you Netgalley and Berkley Publishing Group for providing an ARC of this title for the purpose of review.
January 1, 2021
I’m taking time out of writing my thesis to write this review solely because of how disappointed and upset this book made me. Unnatural Magic starts out promising, setting the stage for an adventure surrounding a young wizard and the adventures she will go on in an intriguing world of magic. However, Waggoner apparently thought that this was the boring part of her story and shifts the narrative towards a troll and her newfound human lover. Worst still, Waggoner’s narrative style changes between Onna (the wizard) and Tsira (the troll), which is cool in theory but the style surrounding Tsira is far worse than the one surrounding Onna.
I understand what Waggoner is attempting to do (that is imitate how the trolls think and speak), but the narrative style is so stunted and short that it’s hard to get engaged. Moreover, the whole storyline surrounding Tsira revolves around her wanting to have sex all the time and this leaves nothing compelling about her character. In addition, Waggoner attempts to give some gender norm narrative surrounding the trolls, but it’s impossible to understand what her actual point is. The best I can tell is she is trying to say that gender is ambiguous and that is why trolls have both male and female genitals, but her ideas surrounding this are never developed, leaving one confused. Worst off, Waggoner changes Tsira’s pronouns in chapter 5 without warning, leaving the reader second-guessing if they had misread the pervious two chapters. It’s a great shame that two thirds of the book revolves around this narrative, especially since the style is so abrupt and involves enough curses to deprive them of any weight.
The world Waggoner establishes is an original and interesting one, but instead of world building Waggoner appears to be more concerned with sexuality than immersion. There is no map or appendix to assist reader; if one forgets a piece of information they may find themselves lost for the rest of their read. This is especially disappointing given that most all of the secondary characters are forgettable, so when a big reveal occurs involving one the reader is left asking, “who were they again?” Furthermore, the characters say “God,” and “Lord,” but there is no hint as to who this god is and why they say “Lord,” given that we say Lord in our world in reference to Jesus, a figure who is absent in Waggoner’s world.
My excitement established in the first chapter was promptly destroyed by chapter three, leaving me wishing that the entirety of the novel surrounded on Onna’s narrative and nothing else, especially since she plays a relatively minor role in her own book. Waggoner never elaborates on her world, it’s magic, or her commentary on sexuality, leaving her novel as a mixed bag.
Profile Image for Allison.
642 reviews17 followers
April 8, 2021
Like a weirdo, I read this series backwards. Since they're largely standalone with fun tie-ins, it was possible to take this turned about approach, and it gave me great amusement to learn about the parents of one of the protagonists of the later book. It made me love her all the more seeing on a personal level where she came from.

But to focus on this story, we're looking at a multiple POV fantasy mystery about some grisly troll murders. The plot follows Onna, a human wizard trying to find her way into a university despite her lack of family connections, and yet more damning, her gender. Then there are the entwined stories of Tsira and Jeckran. Here, we follow a very sweet romance between a half-troll and a human who don't quite fit anywhere. Coming at it from different angles, our characters investigate the murders and seek justice as the situation gets increasingly and even alarmingly personal.

There are two things that endeared this book to me in quite fierce fashion. The characters and their relationships are foremost in my mind. It's messy, sometimes sweet and other times more raw, and I wished all of them every success and happiness. Second, I loved the way the author interrogated gender. Troll society was particularly fascinating, with their equivalent to women as the protectors and providers of the community and most men in the role of care-givers. But it is made clear that while the roles are defined, the sex of the individuals in these roles are not prescribed. Each person chooses which one suits them and can go back and forth or abstain all together depending on what works for them. It's a simple system allowing for complex people, and it was a captivating and meaningful piece of world-building. Overall, we're looking at a fantasy with an interesting plot, loveable characters, and an eye for world-building that is thoughtful without being too dense. Highly recommend.
Profile Image for Alice.
776 reviews18 followers
December 20, 2020
Incredible worldbuilding. Someone is killing trolls and starting skirmishes between humans and trolls who had lived peaceably before. The main characters need to identify the murderer before more trolls are murdered. A brilliant young woman does marvelous wizarding using "parameters" and seeks to learn more, even though she is poor and a female. Gender stereotypes are crossed in a romantic subplot between a seven-foot woman who is half troll, half human and a male human. One of the most imaginative books I've ever read.
Profile Image for Stefanie.
1,656 reviews58 followers
December 3, 2020
I tried so hard to finish this, I really did.

I gave up at 59% in the middle of a chapter. That's how painful this was. I have never given up on a book this late, usually managing to soldier on for dint of my pride and my read books list.

No more. This was fucking awful. There was no plot, no character development, and was populated by the flattest most disagreeable characters I've ever encountered.
Profile Image for Mikhail.
Author 1 book28 followers
July 31, 2021
DNF at 50%

So, not terrible, especially for a debut novel. The author has a very good hand with language, and the actual mechanics of the writing are superb. Likewise, characterization is quick and nimble, and the world-building is fairly solid. Not amazing, but it's fairly deep and incisive spin on the usual Fantasy Victoriana thing.

The main issue is two-fold. First, the book has a serious lack of compelling conflict. Everything comes very easy to the protagonists, without very much in the way of trouble or dramatics. By about the halfway mark you start to see the glimmers of what could be a full-scale plot involving some murders, but good lord, foreground it a bit more!

The related issue is that at a certain point, I began to find a lot of the characters less endearing than insufferable--the troll especially, but likewise the Hexian wizards as well. Everything they do comes remarkably easily to them (I think the troll is literally better at everything than humans), plus they also are shown to have far emotionally healthier lives than our pseudo-Victorian viewpoint characters. And while I can understand the moral lesson that the author is trying to demonstrate, and even agree with it objectively, by the halfway point of the book I was kinda hoping for a monster to eat some of the Perfectly Enlightened Progressive Characters.

So, not terrible, and there were definitely parts I enjoyed reading, but I kept finding myself skimming more and more in hopes of something exciting happening--which is a bit of a sign that no, the book is not for me.
Profile Image for Lesley.
106 reviews6 followers
January 24, 2020
A thoroughly enjoyable experience underpinned by unique world building, a fresh magic system and well-developed, sassy characters. I admit that I was first drawn to this book by the cover art, but the intricate world within immediately grabbed me and then Onna and Tsira carried the rest from there. One of the strongest parts of the book was the fluid gender dynamics. This was built into the world without seeming forced or gimmicky like it does in some other books with non-binary or gender queer characters. It flowed very naturally and was explained through exposition rather than narration. The actual plot of the book was one of the weaker points, some of the plot points related to the murder investigation felt trite and sometimes unbelievable, but this was made up for in spades by the fact that I didn’t want to leave the author's carefully crafted magical world.
Profile Image for Perfektionaise.
269 reviews7 followers
January 9, 2021
Oooh, I really love this one!
Not only is the unusual love story super sweet and absolutely up my alley, Onna's character development is fingerlicking great. I wasn't into her story at the beginning but as it went on I was soooo intrigued! And when the two plots finally intermingled I was positively eating my fingers in anticipation!
The criminal case of the slaughtered trolls is powerfully written and I really really love Tsira's way of thinking and telling the story. The whole genderless lifestyle of the trolls is amazing and their whole culture is very well elaborated.

All in all it was such a wondeful and refreshing read and an absolutely stunning debut. Gonna follow that author very hard.
Profile Image for Mackenzie - PhDiva Books.
416 reviews14.4k followers
December 29, 2022
A bit messy in the plot structure at times, but a good fantasy novel for non-fantasy readers to get into the genre a bit without being too overwhelmed!

I saw another reviewer refer to Onna as “Hermione-esque” and it is such a great description, though Onna has a bit more perception to overcome than Hermione. Onna is one of the cleverest spell-casters in her class, and is easily able to outperform her male cohort. But Onna also is denied entry to the premiere magical university. Doomed to a more provincial life than anticipated, Onna is not one to settle for being a good girl who doesn’t use her brain for her own goals. She leaves for the city of Hexos to find a university that would welcome her as a student, and becomes engrossed in the murders of four trolls.

Meanwhile Tsira is a troll who despite being part of the magical class, is non-magical due to having a human father. Tsira wants to be the dominant partner in a relationship (a reig), but custom (and her own mother) say she should try to be a submissive partner (a vahn). But Tsira doesn’t think she could be happy with a quiet, submissive home life. When a human soldier shows up on her doorstep barely hanging on to life, Tsira can’t deny her interest in this downtrodden man. Overtime, the two form a bond in this small cabin. But that bond will be tested when they emerge into the world, particularly when an attempt is made on Tsira’s life.

The stories converge as the two are separately pursuing the mystery of the murdered trolls.
I found Tsira’s story much more compelling than Onna’s for some reason. I think Tsira just felt so fresh and new—something totally different for me. Onna is the classic intelligent, precocious young woman who is disadvantaged by the men in her life. Tsira felt like much more of an underdog. I don’t read a ton of books with magic but I find it rare to have a non-magical character lead in a magical world. I loved that this story was included. Jeckran is frankly a bit square, but not really to the detriment of the plot. Tsira and Jeckran felt more broadly relatable. I liked that the book is inclusive and queer normative—in that any character can be in any sort of relationship and characters fluidly range from gay to bisexual to straight (in addition to the intra-species relationships, if that is what you can call them).

This book had a ton of plot threads that felt dropped or forgotten in places, only to be picked up again. I wasn’t sure how the whole book would come together, and that is where I describe the plot as a tad messy. Still, this was an enjoyable read with great dialogue, characters, and world-building. A great fantasy book for even non-fantasy readers.
Profile Image for QuietBlizzard.
178 reviews359 followers
May 10, 2021
This is such a little gem. Fantastic writing, compelling characters and a very fresh take on fantasy. The world-building is complex but not incomprehensible and Waggoner skilfully plays with fantasy elements (trolls in particular) and gives it a newer prespective. LOVED IT!
Profile Image for Jackie ϟ Bookseller.
498 reviews79 followers
January 13, 2020
A short review: Other than the human-on-troll sex, I enjoyed this unique novel. A little bit weird, and a very bit witty. How about a combination of a strong female lead, gender-neutral trolls, romance, a murder mystery, and mathematical magic? Unnatural Magic is unnatural fun.
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