When I heard that the upcoming YA fantasy Ruthless Magic, by Megan Crewe was a cross between The Hunger Games and Harry Potter I was pretty darn excited to get an advanced reader’s copy. I have to admit that there were some fascinating aspects of this new magical YA story, although I didn’t feel like the connection between Suzanne Collin’s page-turning thriller and J.K. Rowling’s classic series entirely did Ruthless Magic any great lip service.
Let me explain.
The Skullduggery Effect
Ten years ago, a series came out called Skullduggery Pleasant. In our local bookstore, the marketing copy read “Pick up the new Harry Potter today!” I was initially intrigued, but what I would later discover was a fantastic series in its own rite just… didn’t “do it” for me, because the truth was that Skullduggery Pleasant is not Harry Potter. It’s true that book marketing teams frequently use “comp titles” to help place their new books in the market, sometimes I think that choosing the wrong title to compare a fledgling book to can ruin what might otherwise be a great reading experience. I call this “The Skullduggery Effect.”
Okay, now back to Ruthless Magic.
A New Magical World
I liked it. I did. The beginning set up a unique, magical world set in New York City. I thought that it was interesting to read about the hierarchy of magicians and the need for the main characters to fight for a spot at the prestigious magical school. Along with some beautiful prose and tantalizing intrigue in the first few chapters, the characters were likeable and felt genuinely “real.” This is a well-written book on many accounts.
But Where’s the Tension?
While the narrative does create a similar feeling of competition between young individuals like in The Hunger Games, the narrative urgency that had been building for such a good, long time at the start of Ruthless Magic is broken when the characters just decide to work together. (You could argue that some characters work together in The Hunger Games too–especially in later instalments of the series–but there was also other intrigue building that tempered this release of tension between previously “warring” characters. As in, my all-time-favourite will-Katniss-and-Peeta-get-together already storyline). While there was some light romance building, the white-hot tension wasn’t quite there. Or maybe, it just didn’t feel the same…
Is Ruthless Magic a victim of The Skullduggery Effect? I’m not entirely sure. It’s a well-written narrative with some solid moments that were fun to read, but do yourself a favour and ignore the comp titles for a more enjoyable reading experience.