Magic's Design
by Cat Adams, fantasy (2009)
Tor Romance, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-5963-6


Cat Adams is not a new author, as this is the pseudonym for authors CT Adams and Cathy Clamp. They had published two bestselling series for Tor Romance before someone realizes that it is easier for people to remember "Cat Adams" than "CT Clamps and Cathy... er, wait a minute". So here it is, the first book in a new series, Magic's Design, published under the name Cat Adams.

Magic's Design has a very interesting setting, with the author incorporating Ukrainian tradition and folklore into the tale. However, the story has me scratching my head many times as I turn the pages, because of some key events that don't make much sense to me.

Okay, so we have an alternate Earth here, where we also have a race of magical people called the Agathians living in a subterranean world below the surface. Agathia has been a crumbling empire for a long time now, with the magic sustaining their existence apparently dying out. Talos "Tal" Onan, our hero, is with the Overworld Police, the squad charged to protect both the Agathians and humans from cartoon megalomaniacal villains bent on conquering the world. When the story opens, an ancient foe breaks out of a supposedly break-proof prison, nearly killing Tal's comrades in the process.

The fate of the world could easily be in the hands of Ludmila "Mila" Penkin, a young woman on the surface whose greatest problem, until she encounters Tal, is her "episodes" where she will have black-outs and experience inexplicable seizures once she is out cold. When her room mate turns out to be Tal's comrade and this woman gets kidnapped by the bad guy right before Mila's eyes, she will soon learn that she belongs to a clan of exiled Agathians who specialize in healing magic. She holds the key to defeating the bad guy and dismantling a strange cult that has recruited many Agathians for probable sinister purposes.

Mila's characterization befuddles me. She is, for reasons I will not go into here, blocked from remembering her past, and yet when it is time for her to remember those things, she regains those memories as well as control over her latent abilities with an ease that has me going, "Hey, that's too easy!" And then we have Mila's grandmother, a supposedly powerful mage of her clan, who knows of Mila's black-outs, and yet doesn't suspect anything funny all that while. When Mila, her friend, and her grandmother encounter Tal and his buddy for the first time, and bear in mind that Tal's people and Mila's are supposed to be enemies, those three women leave the two men alone so that the two men could snoop and eavesdrop to their hearts' content. And I don't want to even start on the "twist" about the villain late in the story - it could have been interesting, if the twist isn't a long established cliché in the romance genre when it comes to villains.

The romance is hardly believable, given that, at one point late in the story, Mila herself admits that the whole story takes place in only two days. The two characters have hardly any time to get to know each other, and yet the author has those two kissing and having sex as if forced instantaneous attraction is enough to sell a romance. Alas, it isn't. In a way, I really wish this isn't a romance and that Mila and Tal are allowed to have a platonic relationship here. Let them be attracted to each other, yes, but let's have them also acknowledging that they need to know each other more before talking about true love and what not.

What makes this story a pretty compelling read despite its flaws is the fact that I find myself so intrigued by the setting and the plot that I find myself needing to find out what happens next. I love the setting. The thing about the eggs, the fact that the act of healing actually comes with repercussions and even great pain, and the mystery of the Trees all have me wanting to find out more about this world. I can do without the characters' accents and some confusing point-of-view switches, but I definitely cannot do without reading the entire story. That is how well the author has drawn me into her setting. The fact that there are some unanswered questions about the setting has me curious about the next book in the series now.

Magic's Design is an uneven read, all in all. The romance isn't interesting and the pay-off to the plot isn't as good as I'd have liked, but at the same time, this is one entertaining read that I won't forget so soon. Magic's Design succeeded in making an impact on me, and this is a actually pretty good if you ask me.

Rating: 79


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