Thursday, April 14, 2011
Review: Dark Mirror by M. J. Putney
Lady Victoria “Tory” Mansfield lives in a Regency England where magic is commonplace but considered a shameful and degrading thing for aristocrats to possess. All nobles who are discovered to have come into magic are immediately sent to Lackland Abbey to get rid of their magic. But Lackland doesn’t simply rid its students of their magic: it also offers a secret safe haven for those who wish to keep their magic and learn more. The decisions that Tory makes will whirl her across time and expand her conception of magic far beyond what she dreamed was possible.
DARK MIRROR is a doozy of a novel. It seems to cover a little dash of every genre—fantasy, historical fiction, science fiction, romance—and while it doesn’t fully develop the possibilities that these multiple genres allow, and used quite a few YA tropes to push its nonstop pace along, it was still overall a rollicking good read.
DARK MIRROR focuses on plot over characterization. The book’s synopsis says practically nothing about the plot, which made it an interesting reading experience for me because that practically never happens for me anymore. The pacing kept me engaged even through the less believable moments—which occurred at greater and greater frequency as the story progressed.
Why is that so? I think it might be because this book tried to take on so much. First it introduces us to an alternate-world Regency England where magic is common but considered “dirty blood” among the gentry. The explanations for how the magic worked were practically nonexistent, but it didn’t bother me all that much once I readjusted my mental “targeted reader’s age” to something much younger.
But then, about two-thirds of the way through the book, we basically get introduced to a whole different set of characters, who know nothing about magic, and so in the span of, like, 20 pages Tory manages to explain and teach them magic. Call me picky, but that felt like a poorly rushed narrative decision. And there is not much I want to say about the ending, because by that point I was trying to hold in my laughter at how dramatic and contrived the plot had gotten. Not the kind of reaction a book wants to inspire in its reader.
Tory and her friends are basically solid characters. Tory is a resilient protagonist, not annoying. Other than her, however, the supporting characters were relatively stock characters: you had your mean but troubled roommate; the jolly, though poor, male friend; the plucky little sister; and so on. The thoroughly undeveloped romance that gets thrown into the story kind of randomly felt entirely like someone had said, “This is YA; it needs a romance” and so plunked the moody handsome guy in. And, as most of you know by now, that is not okay by my book.
So DARK MIRROR is not high-quality literature. It employs a few too many clichéd YA elements for me to truly enjoy it. But I think that younger readers who’ve enjoyed Libba Bray’s or Tiffany Trent’s gothic YA historical fantasy series might delight in this exciting and fast-paced story.
Cover discussion: I was having none of this cover when I first saw it, and while I have less of a problem with it now that I've read the book, I still don't really like it. The girl's reflection in the mirror made me think this was about some gender-bending historical fantasy tale. That would have been crazy, eh?
St. Martin's Griffin / March 1, 2011 / Paperback / 320pp. / $9.99
Copy won from LibraryThing's Early Reviewers Program.