City of Broken Magic, by Mirah Bolender (audio)

Once long ago, a weapon was created to use against magic. Inevitably, it backfired, and infestations of hungry monsters spread across kingdoms, popping up anywhere they could take root. Only Sweepers are qualified to destroy these infestations, and the job is dangerous. In the city of Amicae, there are few Sweepers – just Clae and his apprentice of three months, Laura – because in Amicae, people believe government propaganda that claims their city is immune to infestations. Unfortunately, when no one pays attention and no one believes, a city can become a breeding ground for massive infestation.

This was my first book of 2019, and I have very mixed feelings about it. Let me get the negatives out of the way first. One is just a small thing and has to do with the book cover and description. The cover contains the line, “If it’s magic, which wire do you cut?” which implies there will be something related to disarming bombs, but there are no wires or disarming bombs or anything of the sort in this book. It’s misleading, and the book description (back of book, Goodreads) is also misleading. Plus, the book description contains a major spoiler for something that happens in the last 50 pages of the book. So avoid the official book description if you dislike spoilers!

The other negative was a bigger issue for me. There was a whole lot of expository world-building almost up to the end of the book. Sometimes the action would stop for a paragraph or two of exposition to describe some part of the world (like the money system), and sometimes it took the form of explaining history and backstory and magic to people who didn’t know (an apprentice, a foreigner, a reporter, someone who didn’t know what Sweepers actually did, etc). The explanatory sections kept cutting into the story and the transitions between action and stop-action-to-explain were sometimes awkward. World-building is hard when it comes to entirely made up locations with their own magic systems, governments, history, cultures, food, religion, and so on, but a lot of world-building can be built into the story more naturally, and some of it can simply be cut. The reader doesn’t need to know the denomination of all the coins or the varying kinds of religions in the city when neither have any bearing on the characters or story. You expect some of this kind of exposition in the beginning of a fantasy novel, but by page 350? It got tiresome.

The thing is, the story itself was phenomenal. I loved the magic system. I loved learning about infestations. The action was awesome and the pace – excluding exposition – was perfect to keep me racing through without feeling rushed. The opening chapter is one of the best I’ve ever read. (I really can’t express how much I loved it – read a sample!!) I loved the characters and I’m looking forward to seeing what the next book will bring for them. I really want to know what’s going to happen to a specific character (who shall remained unnamed lest there be potential spoilers). All those things were so great that this book would have been an early contender for best-of-the-year if not for that one big negative. That’s what made the book such a mixed experience – all this good stuff that got thinned out by the one persistent irritation. It might not be something that even bothers another reader, but it certainly affected me. I’m definitely planning to read the next book in the series, and I have my fingers crossed that with a sequel, less world-building (thus less expository time-outs) will be required!

Performance: I half-read, half-listened to this book. I had a physical copy out from the library and the audio from Audible (read by Natalie Naudus). Naudus did a great job with the reading, but her pace was at that in-between stage where it was too fast for me to listen to my normal 1.5x speed, but too slow for the 1.25x speed. I kept it on the lower speed, not wanting to miss details, but then ended up stopping and picking up the book instead. The physical book helped me with vocabulary I’d heard but hadn’t seen spelled out, and it was great to have in waiting rooms during multiple appointments for my kids while they were on winter break. Then I’d switch over to the audio for exercise and housework and other activities. I’ve never gone back and forth like this from print to audio. I’ve switched from one to the other before, but never constantly shifting. It was an interesting experience. I’m glad I have the audio copy because I’m definitely going to want to listen to this one a second time.

About Amanda

Agender empty-nester filling my time with cats, books, fitness, and photography. She/they.
This entry was posted in 2019, Adult, Prose and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to City of Broken Magic, by Mirah Bolender (audio)

  1. Madam Mim says:

    That is misleading! How bizarre! I can totally see what you mean about the exposition of the worldbuilding. Otherwise, I’m intrigued by the premise though… Great review 🙂


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