Update: you can now buy the book here!
Magic. This is a book about magic, and much more than magic. As I mentioned yesterday (with a giveaway and an interview with the author here) this is a debut novel by Australian Marta Salek. I was quite excited about the book because full disclosure I know the author, and read a snippet of it over a year ago I think while it was still being written, and I really liked it at the time. (I’ll say now that I received this book as an ebook ARC (advance review copy) in exchange for promoting/reviewing this book as part of the blog tour. My review is still my own opinion and honest, and I have not been asked or paid to say nice things about it.) Apart from that snippet I didn’t know too much more about the book, so I think it’s understandable I was excited to see the completed product.Zharmae Publishing Group labelled this book as ‘New Adult’, and this was the first time I have come into contact with that term. I do think it’s applicable to Reticulum, as it’s a bit beyond young adult, and not quite ‘adult’, but a blend of the two. Indeed because it follows two young adult protagonists, who become adult protagonists, and their journey towards maturation, new adult is probably appropriate. In terms of how the book is structured, we regularly switch perspective between both characters.
As I said right at the beginning, this book is about magic. There are two standard types of magic, divided into witchcraft and magecraft, for women and men respectively. And we follow two young adults, Matthew and Andrea, stuck in two separate magic schools, one for girls, one for boys. And we immediately start there, there isn’t any journey to reach the school, or plucking normal kids out who have developed special powers, magic just seems to be accepted, and we’ll come back to that. I thought the magic ‘systems’ developed were really detailed and imaginative. Salek said yesterday she drew a lot of inspiration from fantasy authors like Isobelle Carmody, and while I can see some influence, I find the mythology of the world fascinating, and definitely well thought out.
Of course, our two protagonists aren’t quite normal, they are gifted and don’t quite fit in because of it. They push the boundaries, and want to explore magic further than their teachers’ lessons. Eventually this leads to them both leaving the schools after a number of years in search of something more.
For Matthew, this means he finds a third type of magic and the source of the other two, the reticulum. The reticulum is so much more powerful than magecraft or witchcraft, and using it can alter matter, and contradict laws of nature. While for Andrea, she is enticed by magecraft, and goes to find a teacher, but the one she finds is awful. And for the reader the experience of Andrea with this man is frustrating and disgusting, but I think was an interesting illustration of domestic violence and abusive relationships. Andrea became trapped and sadly started to believe that she deserved what she was getting, and was always hoping for a glimmer of affection which he dished out on occasion. The story then went to discuss grief, and I think depression as Andrea couldn’t cope with emotions and buried them and became numb. This is why the story is about more than magic.
Inevitably the pair meet, and just as inevitably they fall in love. I mean the blurb does mention it, and it’s a fairly standard trope. There were times I was annoyed with their relationship and the clichéd “we both love each other but refuse to acknowledge it because we think we both hate each other and aren’t interested, while our friends all know it’s going to happen”. But their relationship was developed beyond their eventual pairing, which really impressed me. Though at the time I was wondering why the book didn’t just end, and there’s good reason why it doesn’t, but I’ll leave that for you to find out.
I mentioned earlier that magic seems to be accepted. Not everyone are mages or witches, because Andrea’s parents show up and they don’t seem to be magical. And when Andrea goes to a town, we see a whole lot of people who aren’t magical in anyway. But we aren’t really shown any interplay between the magical and non-magical, the non-magical are by and large ignored. So I’m not sure if magic is widely known to exist, or whether magical people are able to display their powers and help non-magical people, though it doesn’t appear to be a case of the magical ruling over those ‘lesser’. Personally I’d love to explore that further, but when words are limited, you can’t explore everything, and it’s quite possible there’s nothing much to explore. So while the magical world was explored in some detail, the greater world exploration did leave me with a bit of a longing for more.
Though I think the fact that I do want more is an indication that the book is good, because I want to be further immersed in that world, and have been contemplating aspects of the world. I would have also loved more about the Arsala, who seems to be a really fascinating woman. She picked up on Andrea’s gift and ensured she was able to attend the school. She was extremely powerful, and only seemed to be matched by Matthew, who seemed to be able to dominate (terrible word) her, and she became quite small when they had their encounter.
The pace of the book was constantly changing. I think because the story is over a number of years, so we get a grander scale of story, it means that we are constantly moving forward in time, and it made me feel somewhat rushed. Then at other times, things dragged on a bit, and I wasn’t as engaged, then suddenly I was liking it more. I think I had a number of peaks of interest in the book, with a number of troughs too. So while it was overall very good, there were areas which could have been improved, and seemed a little under done. But I still really did enjoy the book, and I believe it’s definitely something to check out.