August 22, 2016

The Darkest Magic: A Book of Spirits and Thieves, Book 2

by Morgan Rhodes
426 pp.
Ages 12+
June 2016

When Morgan Rhodes began this series as a spin-off of her Falling Kingdoms fantasy, I had no idea that it would be even more complicated that that award-winning series. (Read the first four books in that series – Falling Kingdoms, A Rebel Spring, Gathering Darkness, and  Frozen Tides  – and experience the fullness of the high fantasy of Mytica and beyond.) In the first book in this new series, A Book of Spirits and Thieves (Razorbill, 2015), Morgan Rhodes took readers beyond that Falling Kingdoms world and juxtaposed it with our modern one, by creating a complicated story that fused the very best elements of fantasy and parallel worlds.  Well, hold on to your hats (or your cloak's hood) because The Darkest Magic takes the reader into darker worlds in which secrets revealed just beget more secrets and everyone is chasing after something or someone.

In Mytica, Maddox has learned that he is the son of the mortal Barnabas and the immortal Eva, though he’d always been raised to believe Damaris, who is revealed to be Barnabas’s sister, was his mother. After Goran, the henchman of the goddess Valoria, murders Damaris, they are more determined to seek out Valoria’s scribe to learn of her weaknesses.  Unfortunately, Maddox and company arrive just as the scribe, Alsander Verus, is executed by Valoria for treason. Unthwarted, the trio rescue his head which Maddox brings back to life, getting the torso-less scribe to help them by agreeing to reunite his head with his body. Together, Maddox, Barnabas, the witch Liana and Al head (no pun intended) first to central Mytica to seek help from Princess Cassia who lost her inherited throne to the murderous Valoria and then to southern Mytica where Valoria’s sister and nemesis, the immortal goddess Cleiona, regins.

Meanwhile, in modern-day Toronto, Becca Hatcher, who still dreams of her time with Maddox in Mytica, and older sister Crys are hiding out with their mother Julia Hatcher, aunt Jackie Kendall and professor Dr. Uriah Vega at the Yorkville penthouse of Angus Balthazar, magic expert and friend of their aunt Jackie’s.  The group is working to try to decipher the Codex, the book that Valoria calls the Book of the Immortals, in an attempt to foil Markus King’s evil machinations to restore his full magic and ensure his immortality as a death god.  Wait, it gets more complicated.  They realize that Becca, who learns soon enough that she is actually the daughter of Jackie and Markus, is inexplicably linked to the book, painfully wounded when Jackie tries to destroy it. Worse yet, Markus, who ensures obedience from members of the secret Hawkspear Society, is once again exerting control over Crys’s mom as well as upping his influence over rich bad boy Farrell Grayson–weirdly romantically involved with Crys–and putting Crys in more danger.

I haven’t even mentioned the surprising arrival of Damen Winter whose evil intents surpass Markus’s and whose appearance has mortals and immortals clamouring to action in both Toronto and Mytica.

Keeping track of Morgan Rhodes’s characters in Mytica, in Crys’s and Farrell’s worlds, as well as their storylines, is a daunting feat but readers worthy of the challenge will be justly rewarded. As Farrell’s dead brother, Connor, suggests to him, "The higher the price, the better the reward." (pg. 278) So it is with keeping the multitude of plots, relationships and secrets clearly separated whilst they start converging.  The Darkest Magic is a skein of magical plots that occasionally get knotted together but will ultimately be unravelled in true Morgan Rhodes’s fashion.  There is insight and humour,
     Farrell’s not a killer, she reminded herself over and over, like some sort of twisted mantra.  “He’s an asshole, a misogynist, and a spoiled brat,” she allowed out loud, “but he’s not a killer.”
     “Aw, come on.”  The front door clicked shut behind her.  “You shouldn’t give me so many compliments,” Farrell said. “They’re going to go to my head.”
(pg. 331)
and lessons to learn about family and trust and obedience.
You are the master of your destiny.  No one else. (pg. 61)
The Darkest Magic is a full package, a very full package, and one that Morgan Rhodes delivers with poise and skillfulness and imagination. And there’s still Book 3 to come. Perfect.

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