So I’ve finally dug my grubby little claws into James Riley’s latest series, The Revenge of Magic! Hold on to your dragons and grab your moral support cats because we are in for exactly one romp of fabulous magic, monsters, and mayhem, where the biggest threat of all is nerds with teenage angst and antibacterial soap.
There’s no way you’re prepared for this.
Book: The Revenge of Magic by James Riley
Series: The Revenge of Magic, No. 1
Genre: Middle-grade fantasy (magic school/urban fantasy)
Content for the sensitive reader: Some thematic/suspenseful moments via disgusting monsters, possession/mind control, morally gray character choices, utterly useless adults. Appropriate for a wide audience.
BookmarkedOne Rating: 8/10
So this feels like half of forever since I read a James Riley book. I was finishing the weird, bafflingly wonderful Story Thieves series the summer before I started college.
I’m still trying to decide if that’s too long ago or not long enough.
Either way, there are some important rules attached to reading James Riley books. A friendly list of reminders then, for those of you who are new to this dimension of the library:
- The acknowledgements and author bio are part of the story. Do not skip them.
- All the books connect, so keep your eyes skinned for that subtle (or very obvious) character cameo from another series.
- No. You’re wrong. This is better.
Pretty sure that’s the right order. Wouldn’t hurt to add that James Riley gets referred to around my book hoard variously as “the lunatic,” “the idiot,” or “the mad genius.” Not to be confused with Patrick Rothfuss, who holds the title of “the bearded madman.” Very different.
After Story Thieves, I knew I had to get my hands on this. And technically this book review wasn’t supposed to happen for a while yet, because I still have the Les Miserables and The Thief reviews squishing my brain and a lot of mercenary fiddler/academic papers/work stuff going on this week.
And what happens?
I ditch all of that and stay up after three in the morning reading The Revenge of Magic. Because nothing says “de-stress” like reading another book. And apparently I hate being told what to do.
But on to the review itself,
It’s a magic school book.
It’s a middle-grade magic school book with the dead mom trope thrown in and a “chosen one” on top.
It’s a James Riley magic school book.
(And now I’m really tempted to break my no-gifs-in-the-book-reviews rule to go find that Agent Carter clip of Dottie Underwood saying “six walls” instead of “four walls” because “We’re in a cube, Peg. Keep up.” Complicated reference or not, it is the perfect expression of James Riley happily creating havoc and discovering new dimensions.)
And that means full of tropes or not, this isn’t going to be what you expect. Try a military compound magic school on for size. Oh yeah, and that magic system from Kiel Gnomenfoot, that nonexisting book series from Story Thieves that I and probably a lot of other people would read every word of if Riley chose to write it? That’s back. On a new level, but not so different we couldn’t recognize it. And a clairvoyant that I, the grumpy hater of all fictional Prophesies actually adore?
Yeah, Cyrus is actually my favorite character so far. He’s my type of weirdo.
Even if after the whole time-travel thing in Story Thieves I know he’s included just to remind us all that James Riley is Lord and Fiend of Paradoxes, everyone. Because so what if you change the future in about a trillion different ways after you see it? Isn’t that what clairvoyance is for, spoilers and convenience?
Sometimes you have to wonder if these things just happen to this author or if he stands awake at night in front of his wall-sized whiteboard, crossing lines of time travel until he can let out an especially delighted villain laugh.
We know he has a villain laugh. That’s not a question.
And can we just talk about how James Riley frolics over the issue of “why does magic work this way because it disagrees with physics and natural laws” by answering “Oh, that’s the perceptions of your dumb human brain. You like oxygen and gravity and all that boring stuff. Weird, right?”
He’s also one of the few writers I’d let get away with dream sequences.
And he doesn’t do too shabby a job with the “If I was under mind control but I managed to overcome the mind control is it still my fault that I did some horrible stuff while I was under mind control and hadn’t yet figured out how to overcome said mind control?” paradox, either.
Yeah, that one is a Rubik’s Cube for writers. Don’t stare at it too long if you can feel your brain start to stretch too far.
Oh, and can we please applaud this book for the fact that it has diverse characters without calling attention to them and shouting “Hey! I’m a Diverse Book! Did you notice? Did you see what I did? Did you notice the percentage of different types of characters?” Because it’s so refreshing to have a writer say “Hey! This is my African American character. This is my British character. This is my girl character. This is–etc. They’re cool people. Look at all the awesome things they do. Cool? Cool. Let’s get on with the story.” I’ve been so sick of seeing books lately treat characters of different backgrounds like trading cards–gotta have them all to win whatever award and recognition the world is offering–and that’s all they are. Static faces smiling stiffly in the background.
We hate that. We hate that a lot. It’s as bad as putting a moral in bold print after a short story.
I’m going to move on before I ruin the glory of Riley’s accomplishment by drawing too much attention to it.
But what I loved most about the book?
Riley stops to take the time to talk about what a hero really is. Not so much in the preachy “Have I got a lesson for you kids” type of way. No. His protagonist struggles with heavy stuff–revenge, grief, loss, self-doubt–it’s a lot for a middle-grade book to carry on its shoulders. But The Revenge of Magic does it well. Sometimes life stinks. Sometimes you want to tear it apart. But there is a real difference between lashing out and being a hero. Between destruction and justice, even if the two both look like victory. Between being strong and being a protector.
And for that alone, our brilliant idiot writer gets my applause. I don’t know how many migraines went into crafting it, but I can say the resolution was satisfying.
Yes, even to a curmudgeonly little book hoarder like me.
Was it as good as Story Thieves?
No. The characters in Story Thieves leaped out at me from the very beginning. There were more laughs. And let’s not forget the multiple dimensions, book-hopping, time-traveling, supervillain-stomping adventures.
But I’m going to read the next one. It’s already waiting to distract me from responsibilities on a shady corner of the shelf.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go look at that “Banish Fear” spell again and contemplate whether or not it would work on stage fright.
That would be magic for sure.
Until next time, happy reading!