"Not all magic is good magic.
Few people can use it, even fewer are born to it. Since the closing of Zarose Gate, our world has toyed with the magic that poured into the air generations ago, turning the insignificant into the extraordinary. The human into the divine.
But even within the divine lies ugliness."
I've said it before, for those of you who follow me.. I don't read a lot of books that call magic wielders magicians. Somehow, though they're no different than wizards or sorcerers, the simple change of term conjures something different in my mind.. those of stage performers pulling rabbits out of hats or playing card tricks.. basic illusions that rely on sleight of hand, misdirection, and so forth.
All that aside, I still try not to be too influenced by my own internal prejudices. If a story sounds interesting, I try to give it a chance even if something about it normally keeps me away.. and 'Where Dreams Descend'.. the first book in the Kingdom of Cards series by Janella Angeles.. is absolutely one of those titles.
Not only are the magic wielders called magicians, the story is sort of rooted around a circus and that's also something that just doesn't normally draw my attention. As a child, as much as anyone else.. I was fascinated with the Big Top and all the 'magic' within.. as an adult, not so much.
"Some mirrors are like windows designed to be more convincing than others. You should always approach them with care. Always think before trusting your reflection."
The Conquering Circus is in town.. a traveling act accompanying a sort of reckless ringmaster who deals in magic and sensationalism.
In a city that has been veritably locked away from prying eyes for years, the mayor has invited a competition called Spectaculor in an attempt to draw business and tourists.. thereby infusing money into their economy. A select group of magicians will pass the auditions and get into the running to become the next headliner for the circus, but there are biases at play from the start.
It seems, a woman's place in the magic world is in service, while men are meant to perform for crowds of admirers. Unfortunately, Kallia is unconvinced. Powerful in her own right and with little left to lose, she'll do anything to win.. even ignoring the threats and disappearances that stack up around her.
On the run from her mentor and mastor, the keeper of the club she's lived and worked in for longer than she can recall, the mystery of him is beginning to unfold when she meets Demarco, the brooding, withdrawn young judge who has left the business far ahead of retiring age for reasons unknown.. and his past is slowly coming to light.
"..opportunity was the last thing on Daron's mind when he reassessed the Alastor Place--more a cemetery of dreams than the stage to make them come alive."
I really went into this story without a lot of expectation. To be fair, I was a little concerned it wouldn't live up to the hype the masses were pouring onto it, but it's a beautifully engaging story told in methodically paced measures.
The imagery is dreamlike at times and those dreams aren't always pleasant, but they're constantly swirling, drawing the reader deeper into the tale. Angeles is an eloquent wordsmith the likes of which I experience rarely. In fact, I can think of only a handful I've read amongst current authors in the last year and most of them are indie writers, still trying to reach the greater audience.
Interestingly, though the story is about a circus and magicians, the cover put me in mind of Phantom of the Opera.. and I do feel like there are parallels here. There's the young gifted star, the master behind the proverbial curtains, and those around her that seem to further inspire her hunger for freedom. In addition to them, the competition between the field of magicians is intense. The game is dangerous to begin with, heightened by those predispositions, and infusing by what appears to be a powerful, malevolent force.
Though Jack is arguably a villain, it was impossible to truly dislike him. Even without explanation for the decisions he made along the way, he was constantly in conflict and I continued to feel like the choices he made were what he believed to be the best options for those close to him.
Demarco, oh the lovely tortured soul.. this character is my cup of tea. He carries guilt, doubt, and self-loathing like they're strapped to his person. I felt like he wanted to connect, even if everything he said and did seemed to say the opposite. Special mention to Aaros who I found to be a darling. I enjoyed the fact the mc could be paired with someone loyal who was a brilliant friend and never tried to become more.
"Games between magicians always get cutthroat. You mix the primal urge to win and the ability to do the impossible, and it ends in chaos."
Honestly, I was desperate to know all of their stories. Not just the path they were on currently, but where they came from, what pain lie behind them in their wake, and whether retribution or betrayal would line the acts of their futures. The supporting characters are vibrant and rich, their personalities distinctive enough to create a feeling of investment in me.
Angeles isn't afraid to get a little dark, nor is she afraid to risk the characters we come to like. I definitely have unanswered questions and I'll be looking for enlightenment in the next book, but despite the mild cliffhanger, there is still a finality to the book.. which is something I deeply appreciate. It's like having the author believe in her work enough to know we're coming back for more.. no matter what.
I absolutely loved it and if you like powerful writers with a graceful flow.. I think you will too.