A former coworker of mine gifted me Unraveling Magic by G.H. Kohn, a book she edited, several months ago. I finished it around Valentine’s Day and have finally found some time during spring break to give my review.
Full disclosure: I had not read a book of the fantasy genre since Lauren Kate’s Fallen series ended in 2015, so I was unsure what to expect from this book as I don’t read fantasy much anymore.
Unraveling Magic focuses on the life of New York City resident Liu Bao Webster, a Crafter who made a pact with what he calls an elf. The elves are crystalline beings made of chemical compounds who give crafters assignments. The reasoning behind the assignments is never really explained to the Crafter receiving the instruction. All they know is that their crafting power is meant to serve the greater good of the world, and the elves, who only reveal themselves to people of their choosing (they are otherwise invisible).
Liu Bao’s craft is creating knot spells. It helps him do cool superhero-esque things such as pulling rugs from beneath villains and escape a burning building with water absorbing knots used on a large blanket that he drapes over him after submerging it and himself in a huge sink. The latter is one of my favorite scenes in the book.
Liu Boa is tasked with figuring out who killed the elf that Congresswoman Tahira Farouk made a pact with. Her name for the elves is mala’ikah, which is explained when Liu Bao refers to the deceased being as an elf, leaving her confused as to who he is referring to. Each Crafter has their own name for the elves.
The story becomes a huge who-dunnit, taking various twists and turns as the Crafters navigate New York City with a dangerous murderer wreaking havoc on the loose. Murder is a serious crime to the elves, and the plot becomes more intense each time there is an incident involving death while Liu Bao is working to figure out who is to blame for killing the congresswoman’s elf.
There are three things I really love about this book:
- Each chapter begins with an epigraph, be it a word of the day formatted as a dictionary entry, a chatroom message thread, or an excerpt from a news article. I love epigraphs, as they are great for setting the mood.
- The characters are very diverse. Liu Bao Webster himself is mixed race (Asian and Caucasian) and other characters in the book are of various races, including Hispanic and African-American. Liu Bao’s ex-girlfriend, Scotch Bonnet, is described as a tall woman with “clear brown eyes […] “tightly curled […] orange hair and ochre skin.” I’m convinced that she is a Bond girl who makes wound healing smoothies.
- Building on the above, the descriptions of the characters in action is so relatable. Liu Bao is sort of an awkward loner who doesn’t really like to hang out with his other Crafter friends outside of their crafting assignments. After blowing one of them off, there is a scene where he says the “rain is killing [his] glasses,” causing him to not see where he is going and walk straight into a lamppost. As a fellow four eyes, I loved this.
Overall I would give this book 4 stars. My reasoning is purely subjective, as I prefer romance fantasy novels while this read more like a superhero fantasy with a bit of a love story and some dirty politics sprinkled in. Nonetheless, I did enjoy it more than I expected to.