[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]
A mystery where Ivy, a private investigator, has to address a potential murder in a magic school, where her own twin sister Tabitha is a teacher—her sister, who was gifted with magic, while herself wasn’t. That’s a recipe for disaster, or at least, for tense relationships and/or resentment.
And I enjoyed, indeed, the out-of-balance relationship between the two sisters, based on a lot of unsaid things, feelings and resent left to simmer for years, with each contending with a difficult event in a way that made the other sister believe they didn’t care, or not so much. Well, it was especially imbalanced when Ivy was concerned, since she was the one at home when the said event occurred, and had to live through it with the feeling that Tabby was too busy with her studies. But this long-festering resentment also came hand in hand with a wistful, half-buried, never fully admitted, desire for magic as well: Ivy telling herself she’s fine as she is, that she doesn’t want magic, can never really hide the regret that magic separated her from her twin. A good chunk of the story deals with this complicated relationship, as well as with Ivy wondering “what if” (what if she had been magic, too?), and seeing herself as the woman she never was, and that she probably wouldn’t have minded being. Along with her investigation, this leads her to spin more and more lies: some appearing as necessary, to throw the potential culprit off-balance while Ivy is fishing for clues, and some that are, let’s say, less justified, if not by her feelings.
On the other hand, there were times when Ivy came off as wallowing in self-pity a little too much for my liking, and when she became unsympathetic rather than touching. So the character development and relationships were interesting in general, though tedious at those times I mentioned.
The magic itself is not all stars and sparkles, and this makes it more interesting than neat spells and wand-waving. First, it can be pretty gross. Healing spells, for instance, are gruesome and difficult, and only the best mages can attempt them without killing themselves or their patient. And there’s also something twisted and petty to the way some of the students use their magic—one of the things Ivy reflect upon: they could do so much with it… but they’re still teenagers wrapped in their own drama, and so use it in a very self-centred and sometimes mean way.
The mystery part was where I think the novel wasn’t as strong as it could’ve been. The crime itself is one of magic (not a spoiler—you see the discovery of the body in the first chapter), and this, of course, throws additional difficulty in the path of our investigator, since she’s not familiar with spells and with what mages can or can’t do. Which is partly why she needs to do so much fishing. Yet at the same time, I felt that it lacked tension, that Ivy wasn’t as threatened as she could have been. And the clues were either something she stumbled upon (so not exactly screaming “investigation” here), or so subtle that they were really difficult for a reader to spot. Not to mention some parts of the ending. Some things were left unfinished, and while I do enjoy an open ending, here something was missing—some closure when it came to certain characters and facts, who/which were in fact sort of… brushed aside as “that was bad and they did a bad thing and oh it’s the end, bye.”
Conclusion: 3 to 3.5 stars? I quite liked this novel, but it’s a like” and not a “love” here.