'The Other Side of Magic' by Ester Manzini is a mixture of magical realism and fantasy inspired by 16th century Italy. The story is told in a shifting narrative between Gaiane Asares, a magically gifted princess from Zafiria and Leo, a magicless commoner from Epidalio.
Everyone in both realms is traditionally born with magic, but with every use.. it slowly depletes. Marked by a dark halo which wraps around their foreheads, as their power wanes, so does the color of the mark.
Gaiane is the result of a very deliberate pairing chosen by her mother, the Queen. A child by design, born infinitely powerful.. her magic doesn't deplete like others upon use. Kept as a prisoner, collared and held in a tower to be used as a weapon to conquer Epidalio.. she ultimately wants only two things. Love and freedom.
Leo, having been born without magic, is a rarity. Having lost her home and family in the attacks, she hasn't forgiven or forgotten those from Zafiria are to blame.
I feel like this story is incredibly ambitious.. yet still falls a bit flat for me. The magic system is very creative, but the world building is almost a second thought. There's a fair bit of just coasting on the concepts, there's plot progression.. but development is limited.
Honestly, I found all of the characters kind of annoying. Some of them, like the princess.. are just whiny.. and while to a degree I kind of get that, it also doesn't really fit the situation in which she was kept. The inner-monologues felt like a shortcut to letting us witness their experiences and the dialogue was often overly angsty.
There's a consistent theme of manipulation and abuse that transcends beyond the parental relationship. While I'm not opposed to dramatic storytelling, I do want to see things like that occur with intent to further plot if they're going to be leveraged. In the case of this story, they feel as if they exist solely for the purpose of existing. In fact, there's some potentially problematic representation here with predatory imagery as well.
As the author is Italian, it's certainly possible that the themes and storytelling style just didn't translate well for me. If it sounds interesting to you, give it a shot.. maybe you'll connect with it differently.. but I found it mediocre at best.