Escape Velocity

A curated Collection of Fantasy and Science Fiction Media

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Brenden Vetch likes to talk to plants more than he likes talking to people - but when the great wizard Od invites him to become a gardener at her school of magic, he sets out to the capital of the kingdom to take up residence. Meanwhile, the capital is enthralled by the presence of the mysterious illusionist Tyramin, the King and his wizards wondering whether the illusive enchanter practices real and illegal magic of if perhaps it is all just tricks. Finally princess Sulys, the King’s daughter, finds that her betrothal to the cold wizard Valoren, one of the King’s counsellors, makes her question her father’s laws and judgment.

Listened to the audiobook with Gabrielle de Cuir – well narrated, but I did have to speed her up by 1.8x because of her pace. That did make the book a nice and short listen at ~6 hours.

Warning: this review is as much about my character development as a reviewer as it is about Od Magic.

I am in a busy period at work and I have less time and energy to spend on reading, so I decided to re-read something rather than picking up something new.

I remember reading Od Magic 6 years ago when I had just decided I wanted to get back into reading and wanted to branch out a bit beyond the obvious big names such as George R.R. Martin and Robin Hobb. I also remember disliking Od Magic, even though some of the whimsical atmosphere did stick with me.

I decided to re-read it as a bit of a challenge to myself: was Od Magic really as bad as the notes I took back then made it out to be? Or has reading a lot more over the past half decade made me appreciate Od Magic more?

I am glad to find that the second is true: having read a lot more these past years, I have come to understand what Od Magic tried to achieve much better. My tastes have also developed, and I have come to appreciate low stakes, low violence, atmospheric storytelling a lot more. I love grimdark stories, but not every book needs to be A Song of Ice and Fire or First Law.

So on second read, I liked Od Magic. It is a comfortable cozy fantasy avant la lettre with no pretentions, likeable characters and a great atmosphere.

I probably shouldn’t overshoot this point: Od Magic isn’t brilliant, and it is not the type of book that makes me come back to fantasy all the time. But as a simple feel good read or perhaps something to read to children, it just about manages it make my list of recommendations.

What lets Od Magic down is definitely the middle section. After a nice introduction that sets up the story well, the middle is a bit of a messy tangle of storylines following different of different characters looking for each other in the Twilight Quarter, the mysterious part of town filled with minor magics and nightlife that is easily the book’s best backdrop (though I would have loved a little more detail).

Unfortunately, I found there is too much in-and-out and repetition in this section – it just lacks structure and I can understand why I zoned out the first time I read Od Magic. You’re not reading Od Magic for the plot anyway, so perhaps McKillip or her editor should have simplified this part of the story or cut one or two the lines.

Still, even though the middle is messy and the ending isn’t exactly unpredictable or spectacular, I did find the conclusion satisfying.

That, too, is a marked difference from my first read, because I remember being disappointed by the lack of a twist or reveal and especially the absence of real fireworks. But this time, I actually enjoyed the mild finale. It fits the book, which is comfortable and calm throughout. Why should then ending shake that up?

I guess that the main takeaway from this review is that Od Magic is just very mild, and for me it takes a certain mindset to appreciate that. But if you happen to like mild fantasy, I would certainly recommend it.

The fact that I now see the value of Od Magic shows to me that I have learned to appreciate things that aren’t necessarily my style. The past years of reading and writing reviews have helped me bring into focus better what my personal likes and biases are, and to separate these from the inherent quality of a story. I have learned that a story that does not fit my particular niche can still be great at what it wants to do. That lesson alone made re-reading Od Magic worth the time.

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