Book Review: The Glass Magician by Caroline Stevermer - a fantasy set during the Gilded Age involving magic and mystery

Book Review: The Glass Magician by Caroline Stevermer

Title: The Glass Magician

Author: Caroline Stevermer

Publisher: Macmillian-Tor/Forge

Publication date: April 7, 2020

Genre: Fantasy

Summary: It’s the Gilded Age, and there are three types of people in the world: the Sylverstri, who are closely in-tune with nature and look down upon the other two classes; the Traders, who have a human and an animal form and who also are the wealthy in the world; and the Solitaires, who are ordinary, normal people with neither powers nor wealth. Thalia is such a Solitaire, and has taken over her father’s act as a magician. But, when an act goes horribly wrong, she makes an unexpected discovery about herself and her family. And when another magician’s act goes even more horribly awry, she not only finds herself a suspect, but also a target of manticores.

I’m not a big fan of historical type novels. I’d rather imagine the future than rework the past. But I’m intrigued by the Gilded Age, so I couldn’t resist this book when I saw it on NetGalley. I’m also a huge fan of magic and magicians so, once I read Thalia is a magician, I knew had to read this book. The shapeshifting and mention of monsters are just cherries on top. As much as I loved the idea, though, the execution was a bit lacking.

The Characters: Fun, but Not Stand Outs

The book revolves around Thalia, a headstrong, intelligent young woman who is also a traveling magician. She may be young, but I think that played well in her favor as her character came off as a bit brash at times, which is usually quite usual for young people. And it somehow feels a bit more endearing. I did adore her character. She was fun and so smart, and played her roles to perfection. I loved how upfront she was and how solid her beliefs were. At the same time, she also managed to slot perfectly into society and society’s expectations for her.

I also really enjoyed the Ryker family. A Trader family, they reside in a large mansion near the Hudson River, but, while wealthy, they never really threw their wealth around. The two major characters in that household are Mr. Ryker, usually referred to as Ryker, and his younger sister Nell, who is fascinated by stage magic. They were fun with good humor as they suddenly became Thalia’s hosts for an indefinite amount of time. I loved Nell’s enthusiasm as well as her less than ladylike moments. She felt like someone I would have enjoyed being friends with in high school. Ryker was a bit bland, but I really enjoyed how upright he was, especially when it came to duty. He was reliable and dependable and many other boring adjectives, but not really boring.

Most of the characters were quite interesting. They had distinct personalities and roles that matched. The only thing that bothered me about the characterizations was the mention of white Solitaire, black Solitaire, white Trader, etc. It was almost as though each person’s skin color had some significance, but I found little evidence of it. It didn’t really matter if someone was black or white, so I can’t really fathom why it was mentioned. It just felt like an irrelevant detail that should have been edited out.

The Setting: New York City During the Gilded Age, With Magic Thrown In

Most of the book takes place in New York City during the Gilded Age. As much as that time period interests me, I don’t actually have a firm background on life during that time. I can say that some of it felt authentic while other pieces made me wonder a bit. Still, it carried a nice atmosphere and was fun to read about. Of course, it is also fantasy and fantasy tends to take liberties.

Still, it was fun to pretend to walk the streets of New York City during the early years of the twentieth century. It wasn’t quite as well-described as I might have liked, but enough was provided to get a good sense of place. I also appreciated that it did take place during the first few years of the twentieth century because the treatment of women was different back then and it fit in well with how Thalia was treated. The society of that time period worked well with the story.

The actual setting wasn’t too well-described, but I liked that the society was. It was well ordered and had a semblance of hierarchy that had a direct effect on the story. It made sense and didn’t feel out of place. I really enjoyed how the setting and society worked with the characters and the way it contributed to the story.

The Plot: A Tale of Two Stories

The only part that really disappointed me was the actual story. It felt like two stories merged into one. There was the story of Thalia learning how to shapeshift and avoid being destroyed by a monster. And then there was the mystery of who killed a magician, of which Thalia and her manager, Nutall, were suspects.

I really enjoyed the story about Thalia learning how to control her shapeshifting. There was a lot of action and uncertainty around it and I liked that it also impacted the other characters. I found myself quite invested in her efforts, and ended up being a little disappointed by how it ended. It was fun to struggle with her, but it all came together to perfectly and neatly, though I could also see it just going on and on forever, so I also have to appreciate that Stevermer chose to end it when she did.

The mystery was probably the most disappointing part. There’s a line or two that completely gives it away, so the end felt anti-climatic. The reveal was fun and I loved that Thalia was in her element, but it was too easy and made the police look completely inefficient.

The other part that really disappointed me was that it felt like the book switched between the two stories. They did not blend well, or, really, much at all. It felt like the book went from one to the other and then back again, which is why I felt like I was reading two separate stories merged into one. It was exciting to see when they did blend, but it wasn’t often and was not lengthy.

The end bothered me because it wrapped up too neatly and then introduced more threads and mysteries. I’ve yet to see any indication of a second book, so it was a little frustrating to see one story wrapped up and another introduced.

Overall: A Fun, Quick Read

Overall, I liked the characters and the setting was fun. The plot left a lot to be desired, but it was still a fun book, as long as I don’t think of it as a cohesive whole. It didn’t really feel cohesive, but the characters tied the two stories together not perfectly, but adequately. This book left a lot to be desired, but it was a relatively quick and fun read, as long as you don’t think too hard about it.

How many cups of tea will you need?

3 cups of tea will do

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Thank you to Netgalley and Macmillian-Tor/Forge for a free e-copy. All opinions expressed are my own.

Head over to the Bookshelf to check out some of my other book reviews.

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