Kim’s Land of Unread Stories: ‘Unnatural Magic’

Unnatural+Magic+is+the+first+novel+by+C.M.+Waggoner.

Photo by Kim Cook (kimberly.cook@marquette.edu)

“Unnatural Magic” is the first novel by C.M. Waggoner.

Sixteen-year-old Onna is the brightest student in her class and is able to write the parameters of spell faster that any of the sound men her age. Despite her profound abilities and willingness to learn, she is denied admission to the top magical university in the country and is sent back home to accept the life of provinciality waiting for her. Stubborn and determined, Onna instead fixes her eyes on the city of Hexos and soon finds herself engrossed in solving the murders of four trolls.

Tsira is a half-troll that never really fits into the mold that her clan leader mother had for her. Now out on her own and away from her clan, she hopes to make a life for herself in the human world. That is, until she finds a half-dead human soldier in the wilderness. Over time, an unlikely partnership grows between them, their bond being tested when an attempt is made on Tsira’s life.

Unknowingly, Tsira and Onna end up on the same trail to finding the murderer loose in the city before the fate on their home is put in jeopardy.

Rating and Review: 

This book has been sitting on my TBR (to be read) list for about a year and a half now. Before I opened it, I was pretty sure that I was going to love it because it had magic and mystery — two of my favorite things in a novel. And while the premise of the story and the alternating perspectives of the novel were something that I was looking forward to, the book as a whole ended up being a little flat for my liking.

Don’t get me wrong, C.M. Waggoner’s world building and character development were strong, especially with this being her debut novel, but her concentration on building the characters and giving them dialogue together distracted her from the plot of the novel. Because of this, the ending that was almost entirely predictable and jam packed into the last 20-or-so pages of the book.

The three main perspectives in this novel confused me at first, but eventually I got used to the scheme in which Waggoner was rotating. The first character I met, Onna, is a teenage girl that is too bright for her age and excels in academic magic. Onna ends up being one of my favorite characters in the novel. She is insanely smart, but is also courageous in a way that I didn’t think she would be. In times throughout the novel, she didn’t even seem like a magic student, but a character who had more power and ability than they knew what to do with.

The novel’s other perspectives, Tsira and Jeckran, the soldier that Tsira saves from the brink of death, are relatively square characters in the long run that never really seem to click together as love interests. Waggoner takes a lot of time throughout the novel to build Tsira and Jeckran’s relationship and gives them a happy ending, but I would have liked to see them have a little more of a back-and-forth, will they/won’t they type of relationship. They are written together from the get-go and there never seems to be any substantial tension between them.

And let’s not forget about the plot. While I usually love a good fantasy mystery novel like “Six of Crows” by Leigh Bardugo or “These Violent Delights” by Chloe Gong, it disappoints me to say “Unnatural Magic” offers a mystery that is half-baked. There is a lack of immediacy that I think is needed to make the troll’s murders more of a dire situation and problem in the story. The idea was there for suspense and stakes, but there came a point where I was 280 pages into the 388-page book and I had no clue how Waggoner was going to tie off all of her loose ends. When I finally came to the conclusion of the book, I wasn’t surprised by the way it ended at all, I wasn’t even close to the edge of my seat.

While the novel isn’t necessarily a must-read, I would recommend “Unnatural Magic” as a beginner fantasy novel. Getting exposed to the world of magic can sometimes be a big adjustment for fiction readers, so I think this novel would give readers that are unsure about the genre something to dip their toes into. For a debut novel, Waggoner does a very nice job at world building and developing a magic scheme that is unique to the genre.

I give “Unnatural Magic” by C.M. Waggoner a 3 out of 5 stars.

This story was written by Kim Cook. She can be reached at kimberly.cook@marquette.edu.