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Review: Unnatural Magic by C.M. Waggoner


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

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