Magic Under Stone by Jaclyn Dolamore
Look, I know some people would call this series a “duology”, but I vastly prefer the term “duet”. There’s something so charming petite about a two book fantasy series that I want the term to reflect that. In any case, I loved Magic Under Glass (to the tune of including it in a paper on social issue representations in young adult fantasy aimed at young women), so I was delighted to find its sequel available on NetGalley last year. I made the request and almost forgot about it until I got an e-mail last month telling me that it was ready for reading! I promptly threw myself in.
Magic Under Stone picks up after Magic Under Glass; the Tienshar dancing hall girl Nimira and the fairy prince trapped in a clockwork body Erris have traveled to the home of Ordorio Valdana to see if they can recover Erris’ body and claim the fairy throne, now occupied by a different family. But Valdana is gone and won’t return until the summer, leaving Nimira, Erris, and Valdana’s household to wait out the winter. But with an unwilling djinn being forced to obey the usurper fairy king and seek out Erris to destroy him, they can’t wait forever, and Nimira begins to take up magic.
What I particularly loved about Magic Under Glass was the fact that it faced complex issues willingly, deftly, and without talking down to its readers. As a woman of color in Lorinar, Nimira had to negotiate her identity with a culture that either didn’t like her or patronized her at every turn, which gave her romantic triangle a lift from the usual inevitability of teen romance. In fact, Magic Under Stone provides absolutely no question that Erris and Nimira are meant for each other, even if their relationship can be strained. But we lose some of that here simply by dint of the setting and pace. Valdana’s home is in a rural town, and much of the book is spent waiting at his home, as Nimira and Erris deal with their relationship, keeping track of his newfound niece Violet, and learning sorcery. And the other part of the book is spent in the fairy country, which is much more medieval. There’s simply few opportunities for Nimira and Erris (whom I had hoped would face issues of his own) to engage with these issues. And we also lose the fascinating, semi-steampunk taste of Lorinar, although we brush against it from time to time. I miss it! I suppose this is the same reaction I had to Malinda Lo; the first book in a series is amazing, but the second is merely good, only looking the worse for following an amazing debut.
While I still like Nimira, who is quite emotionally mature but still relatable, the most interesting character in this novel is Ifra, the djinn. In fact, we start the book with him and learn about fairy politics through his eyes. This, I thoroughly enjoyed. Ifra struggles with captivity, force silence, and limited agency; just as we lose more of Nimira’s thoughts about her homeland, we gain more of his. While I’m still a little iffy on the worldbuilding therein, there’s enough to go on. And Belin, his captor, is interesting, as he evolves from scheming son to a good man. The novel is pretty much split between the two, and I enjoyed it. I’m not crazy about his romance with Violet, but it doesn’t offend me, either. As I look back over the characterization, I think the breakneck pace (which is what I usually associate with young adult novels) hurts it a bit; there’s never really time to breath.
In fact, Magic Under Stone feels a tiny bit rushed. While I love fantasy duets (what a fantastic phrase! I want to say it all the time!), there are a lot of loose threads. The main plot—Nimira’s quest to free Erris and restore him—is resolved, but there’s plenty introduced here that trails off completely unresolved. To be fair, Dolamore has mentioned that she was asked to compress a lot into this novel, so I don’t blame her for this. And it is an enjoyable read with a solid plot; I did eschew work to finish this on my computer. But it lacks some of the brilliance and unique flavor of Magic Under Glass as it ventures into more time-tested fantasy territory. While it’s good, it’s just not quite as good as Magic Under Glass.
Bottom line: The sequel to Magic Under Glass doesn’t quite live up to its predecessor; as it ventures into more time-tested fantasy territory, it loses some of the brilliance and unique flavor of the first book. Still, a definite read after you’ve finished the first.
I read this digital galley for free on NetGalley.