I read this courtesy of NetGalley.
This is one of those books where the originality lies primarily in the execution, rather than the initial premise. And this is in no way an insult! Reading a new take on old ideas is exciting.
The basics: six people with extraordinary gifts are chosen to learn about a secret institution. Things are, unsurprisingly, not what they seem – and there is a lot of interpersonal tension as well.
See? Not a radically new idea. But the execution and the details made this a deeply intriguing book.
The world is one where magic is real, and even the non-magic users know about. Hard to hide a magic university in the middle of New York, I suspect. Also, some people have used their talents to get (legally) spectacularly rich. Anyway: it seems most people don’t have astounding levels of magic. So the six people chosen to learn about the secrets are told they’re pretty much the strongest, most gifted magic-users of their generation. Great way to manage those egos right up. Anyway, they are invited to learn about the Library of Alexandria – now somewhat metaphorical, as it’s not in Alexandria, although it is still a library. And that’s one of the key drawcards: the right, and ability, to search the library for anything they want… if they get through the year.
So we have magic, and we have knowledge, and we have massive personal conflict – mostly because of the individual personalities. Intriguingly, the narrative moves between all six of the initiates, meaning that there’s not automatically one of them the reader is guided towards supporting. While some of them are absolutely unpleasant people, this multi-focus allows the reader to see their complexities and thus make the story that much more complex.
It’s a clever set up, and the twists are just as clever, and the characters are right on that borderline of horrible-but-not-so-horrible (unlike, say, Heathcliff). Clearest sign I enjoyed it? Can’t wait to read the sequel.