City of Broken Magic, by Mirah Bolender, is a refreshingly original fantasy novel which follows Laura as she pursues her dreams of becoming a ‘Sweeper’. The art of using magic to defeat monsters is a dangerous and dying profession, but one that’s about to become extremely important again.
Amicae is a city of delusions. ‘There are no monsters in the city.’ ‘The people are safe.’ ‘The danger is out there in the wilds, infestations can’t pass through the city walls.’
The city’s Council goes to great lengths to defend their lies. ‘Sweepers’ are forbidden to reveal details of their work. The Council maintains the false story that infestations are simply used as weapons in criminal mob attacks. They’re not something that ordinary people need to worry about.
But the infestations are becoming more common, and harder to hide.
Clae is the only Sweeper left in Amicae. He, along with his new apprentice, Laura, is all that stands between Amicae and total destruction by monsters.
The world that Bolender has created is fascinating. The magic system is so very detailed, with complex hidden structures all over Amicae supporting the protective elements and intricate details about how it all fits together and interacts with the monsters.
The world building is neatly done. In the opening scene Laura and Clae battle an infestation. It’s simultaneously exciting and thoroughly confusing. The reader is simply dropped into the world and left to figure it out little bit by little bit.
By about halfway through when we’re battling another major infestation I felt thoroughly immersed and like I completely understood what was going on.
Monsters: Ghostbusters or Dementors?
At some points it almost reminded me of Ghostbusters, with Clae and Laura fighting infestations which sort of resemble creatures but aren’t really. Although some of the mature ones do have seriously creepy eyes and multiple, ever-changing limbs.
How do the infestations kill? They eat people. The idea of a feeding mass of swirling black forms that can reach out with wispy but substantial arms was thoroughly horrifying.
Think Dementors but more deadly. Entire families can disappear in the blink of an eye.
And the monsters have personalities…
It’s shifting down there, but not reacting otherwise. Either it’s digesting or it’s just shy. They’re rare, but introverts exist. Shouldn’t be as hard to root it out, either way. Meals slow them down too.
Natural talent for magic
Laura discovers, to her delight, that she’s a natural at controlling amulets. I loved the exploration of the discovery of natural talent. Of people looking at you like you’re amazing but not having to work for it, of it being easy. But also the feeling that you’ve found a sense of purpose. Because if it comes ‘naturally’ then nature must have planned it for you. Like breathing.
She’d never felt so light before that moment, and when she turned back to Clae to see his reaction, well, she’d never forget that expression.
You’re a natural.
No one had ever looked at her that way before; as if she’d done something amazing. She’d never been a natural either. The idea was thrilling.
I found the politics of the book a tiny bit grating, though they made sense within the world. And to be fair, I find real-world politcs thoroughly infuriating, so there’s that.
Amicae exists in a typical medieval-style fantasy world where women are expected to marry or do safe jobs, and their virtue is guarded.
Laura dodges marriage and takes on the Sweeper apprenticeship despite her sex, much to her aunt’s consternation.
But then on the other hand, Laura sledges chauvinist Charle for getting too pretentious because he’s gone to university. I found the anti-intellectual attitude a little perplexing, but then Charle is a total pain so…
Overall I really, really enjoyed City of Broken Magic and am looking forward to reading the next book in the Amicae series.
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Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher for the purpose of review. This post contains affiliate links.