Jazz's Reviews > Ordinary Magic

Ordinary Magic by Caitlen Rubino-Bradway
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's review
Apr 30, 2012

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Read in April, 2012

Ordinary Magic is a brilliant twist on the tradition of magic school ala Earthsea and Harry Potter. When twelve-year-old Abby Hale finds out she is an Ord, a person with zero magical ability, she is condemned by society as undesirable, and is open to being sold as a slave. The selling of Ords has been outlawed by the recently crowned King Steve, but not everyone cares about the law. Luckily for Abby, she has a family full of rational people who turn away the bigots looking to buy her.

This novel quickly won my heart with its witty cast. It's a feat of writing when minor characters have so much charm and personality that they feel like friends as much as the main character. Abby's brother Gil is a romance writer published under a woman's name, and her sister Alexa is a gifted, no-sense, butt-kicking magic user working in education. Rubino-Bradway does such a smashing job of connecting you with Abby's family that when it is finally time for Abby to move away to Ord school, you feel the same jitters Abby feels about leaving her comfort zone.

But once at school, a second cast of intriguing and sometimes frightening classmates are introduced along with the professors, whom are endlessly pleased when no deaths occur over the summer. Beneath the fun and playful tone of the story, there is a tale of very real danger and misery in Abby's world. While Abby is comfortable at school, many other Ords are homeless or being assaulted without any hope of seeing justice. But even the seemingly safe walls of Abby's school aren't enough to keep out nearly universal hatred, and some very unfriendly fae with some very sharp teeth.

Caitlen weaves the issue of Ord inequality to be parallels of racism, class systems, and ableism. In one particularly painful scene, Abby and her friends witness how an Ord whom is paid for work rather than enslaved is still made to perform stereotypes in order to entertain magic users. I found myself wondering if I should feel sorry for Ords--turns out I probably shouldn't. None of them seem to feel sorry for themselves, and don't envy magic users. The Ords often relish in their own way of doing things, but that is not to say they are portrayed as enjoying oppression. Ordinary Magic will raise questions about how you contribute to and combat oppression while delivering a thrilling story.

The ending leaves itself in a dangerous place. While this is the first in a series, the conclusion of Abby's first adventure is unresolved in troubling ways. This bit of realism does not itself feel out of place. Rather, it is the unmet call to action that feels strange. Rubino-Bradway has taken a risk that she will hopefully deliver on in forthcoming titles.

Ordinary Magic comes out May 8th from Bloomsbury USA. Thank you to Bloomsbury and NetGalley for providing me with the ARC.

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