An Unkindness of Magicians by Kat Howard stands apart, as the first book in The Unseen World series this thrilling journey to the shadowy heart of magic and the magicians who wield such powers in New York City is unparalleled.
The realm of the Unseen World reveals Manhattan’s dark, magical secrets.
But casting magic comes at a price.
There is a balance of power in their world and it is shifting, as the magic itself fades. The protagonist, Sydney, enters the Unseen World, and she is hell-bent on bringing it down.
What Kat Howard has done with An Unkindness of Magicians is extraordinary!
This speculative fiction thriller is so inventive and intriguing.
Howard’s characters are well-rounded, memorable, and all too real in their visceral struggles.
The prose is enveloping in its unique style that is moving, impactful, and poetic, at just the right moments, as in the following passage:
She breathed in. Sydney was, all at once, an entire forest. She was root and leaf, dirt and sky. Green and spring were blood in her veins, air in her lungs. She was, between one heartbeat and the next, all of magic.
The world building soars to brilliant heights off of the foundation of the prose, as a vast realm of magic courses through the veins of the great city, and places like New York’s Central Park house hidden facets of the Unseen World that are wholly new and vivid for readers.
There are so many good lines in the book, but this one wrenched on my heartstrings:
“It was a terrible thing, having hope again.” [Howard, Kat, An Unkindness of Magicians, Gallery/Saga, 2017, page 163]
Mild SPOILER Warning for An Unkindness of Magicians
Every two decades, sometimes a few years less, sometimes more, there is a Turning of Fate’s wheel, and in the Turning the magical houses enter a medieval-like tournament to vie for power, to establish themselves in the Unseen World, or to settle grudges with duels to the death.
The politics, the disinheritances, the murders, the humor, the conversations over drinks, and the plotting and manipulation carried out by a bevy of memorable characters creates an enthralling atmosphere, not unlike the dramatic woven plots in George R.R. Martin’s A Game Of Thrones.
The main character, Sydney, is unknown in the magicians’ circles when she arrives in the city.
But she applies for a job, to be a champion of a potential new magical house, and as she lifts cars in the middle of the Manhattan sky with no one – even those non-magical New Yorkers, the mundanes, in their own cars – the wiser, she wins the job.
In her first duel, she wields such immense power that by forcing all of the magicians present to dance, like puppets, everyone takes immediate note.
A target is planted firmly on her back.
Sydney has been let out of the House of Shadows, a hidden magical house that secretly fuels all of the magicians so that they can cast without paying the painful physical toll that comes with the use of magic.
The reality, Sydney, reveals is that infants are sacrificed by each house and those children are raised by Shadows, who cut into their bodies and their very shadows to withdraw magic to pay the toll for the Unseen World.
Warning! You may not be able to put An Unkindness of Magicians down!
Sydney’s contract with Shadows has nearly been completed, and she wants nothing more than to ruin the House of Shadows and to somehow stop the corrupt wielding of magic.
What she has to endure in her first time in the outside world, from newfound love to seeing snow for the first time, to learning who her family is and that they sacrificed her as a baby is deeply moving.
Readers become very invested in Sydney.
It seems like almost anything is possible in this magical world, but as Sydney comes to find out, the cost could be everything she has.
A Sleight Of Shadows, Book #2 in the Unseen World series, by Kat Howard has just come out on April 25, 2023 and is available now!
This Australian author plows through the gate like a powerful young mare with her debut novel set in the rugged wilderness of Tasmania.
The premise is mysterious and intriguing right off the bat and centers around a search for the last remaining thylacine (Tasmanian Tiger or Tasi tiger) in existence.
The Tasi Tiger was officially declared extinct in 1986 after fifty years with no confirmed sightings in the wild.
However, in the years since its disappearance, this unusual animal, that was neither cat nor dog but in fact a marsupial—who sported a prehistoric jaw structure and pouch-carried it’s young—has borne legendary status in The Land Down Under.
Countless sightings have been claimed by natives of the small island state located 240 km south of the Australian mainland. Though evidence for the thylacine’s extinction is staggering, the powerful force of imagination and hunger for mystery have resurrected the Tasi Tiger to new life.
The Aussie folklore that undergirds the story of M, our fearless and unnamed hunter who enters and slowly becomes a part of the beautiful landscape of the Tasmanian wilderness, injects an electric current that forces the reader to turn page, after page, after page.
It hits that nerve that we all are prey to, that nerve for mystery that grasps onto your ankle with an unshakable grip.
The fact that no one can say for certain that one—or maybe two—of these beautiful creatures haven’t somehow survived all these years in the deep forest, unseen…is just plain exciting.
Life, as Dr. Ian Malcolm so aptly states in Crichton’s Jurassic Park, will find a way. And we certainly hope that it has!
In The Hunter, M has been hired by a large biotech corporation to find the last living thylacine so they can harvest its DNA for some nefarious purpose, and a race is on to find her before the competition does.
Mild Plot Spoilers for The Hunter by Julia Leigh.
To keep this mission secret, M, masquerades as a zoologist from a university in Sydney studying Tasmanian Devils.
A rural property—chosen for its proximity to the escarpment where M embarks on several multi-day trips to conduct his ‘research’—serves as his basecamp where he returns from the wild to resupply and log his progress in between treks.
The ramshackle house, plunked in the middle of what used to be a working farm but has since fallen into disuse, is occupied by the recently widowed, Lucy, and her two small children.
Initially, M only interacts with the children as Lucy remains unseen, secluded to her bedroom in a prescription pill-induced-coma, a move of self-preservation in which she attempts to sleep off the crippling grief of the death of her husband.
Her ascent to putting M up in her home was a decision made out of necessity, the included stipend paramount to keeping what remains of her world from complete collapse.
The older of the children—whom M pegs at about eleven or twelve—has assumed the role of house-manager during Lucy’s chemical absence. She cooks meals, takes care of her brother, and promises to call in the search party if M misses his return date.
They have taken the liberty of assuming new names while they live in this unique interlude from normal life. The older goes by the handle Sass, and her younger brother hails by Bike. These two might just be the hidden gem of the story.
The characters are real, each one unique and lovable. Their flaws define them and give them a tangible humanity, and yet, in such a short story, they also achieve sensible growth and change.
Leigh’s prose is fantastic. [Spoiler Warning Ended]
It’s concise and crisp, not one unnecessary word left in the final manuscript. This author took to heart the axiom that William Strunk Jr. coined over a century ago; omit needless words.
The choice to write the story in the present tense also adds to the urgency of the narrative. It removes that comfort, that feeling that everything must end up okay in the end, had it been written as if M was telling us a story that has already happened.
As we are experiencing the story in real time with the hunter, we share his emotions in real time. This keeps that current at a steady jolt that—like an electric shock—locks your fingers and thumbs together on each side of the open book.
I love the way Leigh effortlessly moves between scenes.
In as few words as possible she gracefully moves the plot without leaving the reader wondering where he is or how he got there.
With a skilled hand, Leigh chooses the perfect details to describe and the perfect ones to leave out. The author writing this review is certainly taking notes.
Like the thylacine, this book has remained largely unseen. Hidden in libraries and bookstores, a single copy wedged between, and overshadowed by, volumes of Steig Larrson, D.H. Lawrence, and John le Carre.
You will not experience a minute wasted with this little buzzer. It’s a great one to insert into the queue especially after a longer tome, when you’re feeling a little tired out and aren’t quite ready to commit to another thousand-pager.
Gothic by Philip Fracassi – beware of the madness within these pages, because it may unravel your soul.
There are few books that come along – and I usually read many books at once – that demand all of my attention, and I cannot put them down, and Gothic by Philip Fracassi was one of these.
The thrilling tale of Gothic’s Tyson Parks and his world, packs a hell of a bite.
The characters are so real you can hear their voices and recall their mannerisms. The writing is fantastically tight and visual, the impacts of violent scenes visceral.
For fans of horror and thrillers that hold back no punches, Gothic is a rare treat.
Spoiler Alert for Gothic by Philip Fracassi.
The world-building is extremely well done, as Fracassi paints the posh and the dimmer corners of New York City alongside a publishing world that is genuine, down to the minute details, like the contractual obligation to deliver on a novel’s pitch.
And this is entirely necessary to go along with what is almost certainly a haunted desk that hints at being so much more.
Fracassi presents Gothic in such a way that I might have walked past the same swanky antique store on my way home and seen the corner of a mammoth antique desk there and felt its allure before a chill went down my spine and sent me on my way.
The best-selling author, Tyson Parks, who is out of money and time and inspiration is gifted an antique black oak desk, like no other, that immediately becomes a miraculous muse.
As the tragedy of Tyson, who begins to write rampantly and display violent behavior wholly unlike himself, progresses, with more success meeting more hints at madness, Gothic‘s story unfolds bloodily and brilliantly.
There is a steady build-up that grows faster and faster, until the plot’s rollercoaster car flies down from the track’s summit at blistering speed with many exhilarating and scary twists and turns that form an epic conclusion.
The desk is hungry!
The very first writing marathon that Tyson takes at his new desk causes cracks in his fingertips that bleed. And whenever blood touches the desk and its centerpiece, a massive stone surface, it is absorbed and a sacrificial contract of sorts gets underway.
As the time goes on, more and more blood is fed to the desk, and the carved ivy branches lift from the desk’s surface and slip into the author’s veins.
Though Tyson does not remember what he wrote, exactly, his next book becomes a bigger best-seller than he has ever had.
Despite that, his agency begs him to dial down the rampant violence in his next project, The Horror, and to take out the unsavory elements that fly in the face of many 21st century readers’ morals.
Tyson, enthralled by the desk, and incessantly listening to the old blind wizard that speaks to him from it, goes off on his agency and threatens to walk if his written word is ever questioned again.
He is a multimillionaire and god-like among his world.
But as he discovers at the book launch party for his newest book, the text has inspired madness, suicides, violence, and cult-like reverence that he never intended. He does not even remember the parts of the book that are referenced as causing harm.
Even after losing his family to the desk’s murderous influence, losing his own mind, life, and seemingly his own soul, he – or the spirit of the desk, maybe – writes one final manuscript.
Because he is completely in the hold of the desk, and he cannot stop himself from going to it.
That final work of Tyson’s arrives completed at his agent, Harry’s, office, and Harry who has already succumb to alcoholism and drug addiction as a means to cope with Tyson’s work, starts to read the book, titled Gothic; will it fully unravel his mind?
Not since Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness does a character, like Gothic’s Tyson Parks, tragically reach such megalomaniacal heights that the overthrown mind crumbles and the realization of their lost humanity comes only at the moment of their bitter demise.
As Conrad’s Kurtz sees the darkness about him and within him, he can only mutter, The horror. The horror, as he dies. For Fracassi’s Tyson, the irreparable inward degradation is only made fully apparent to him as the literal cause of his fate in the ancient relic – now a desk – kills him, and at that moment a door opens in it to an alternate plane of existence where a leviathan’s jaws emerge to utterly consume his soul.
Want to question your own grip on sanity? On reality? There is a book for you called Gothic by Philip Fracassi.
For those looking to keep themselves up at night, afraid that some artifact in their home, a desk, a table, maybe, might be haunted and hungry and so much worse, Gothic will oblige.
On Gothic’s Limited Edition
In 2022, Earthling Publications released the first printing of Gothic by Philip Fracassi in a gorgeous signed limited edition.
Earthling has long held some of the best small press releases in the industry, and this is no exception.
With the art, from the gorgeous desk on the cover, by Glenn Chadbourne, to the interior layouts and the lavender textured endpapers, to the quality paper and Smyth-sewn binding, this is a work of art encasing a work of art.
In 2023, Gothic – with another badass cover – was released en masse and is available by Cemetery Dance for purchase now. Philip Fracassi’s next major release Boys in the Valley will hit shelves in Summer 2023!