Book Review: “Rival Magic” by Deva Fagan

Cover of "Rival Magic" by Deva Fagan
Cover of “Rival Magic” by Deva Fagan

I’m back with another book review, and this time I’m reviewing “Rival Magic” by Devan Fagan!

Antonia may not be the most powerful wizard the world has ever seen, but she’s worked hard to win her place as apprentice to renowned sorcerer Master Betrys. Unfortunately, even her best dancing turnip charm might not be enough when Moppe the scullery maid turns out to be a magical prodigy. Now that Betrys has taken Moppe on as a second apprentice, Antonia’s path to wizarding just got a bit more complicated.

But when Betrys is accused of treason, Antonia and Moppe are forced to go on the run. To prove their master’s innocence–and their own–the rivals must become allies. As their island province teeters on the brink of rebellion, they’ll face ancient spells, vengeful mermaids, enchanted turnips, voice-stealing forests, and one insatiable sea monster.”

Plot Development: 2.5 out of 5 stars

I think the main story had the potential to be great. The main story addressed classism, hard work vs. natural talent, the frustrations of comparing yourself to others, and carrying the burdens of others’ expectations (particularly from family). However, it didn’t quite fully charm me. Everything got too-neatly resolved at the end. Yes, I know it’s a standalone book that’s aimed towards middle-school children. I’m sure they’ll get a kick out of all the adventuring involved. However, I think the main story wasted much potential to explore themes even deeper.

There’s a subplot in the middle of the book involving the mermaids potentially going to war with the humans, and I wish it got turned into its own book. In fact, I found it much more interesting than the main story as a whole. The plot material involved in this particular subplot would’ve been more interesting to read as a whole novella on its own. I wish we could’ve learned more about Thalassa, the trials, Nerine, and so on.

Character Development: 3 out of 5 stars

I found it really hard to sympathize with Antonia as a reader. She’s supposed to be presented as this person who worked hard to win her place as an apprentice to Betrys. However, her struggles with magic never seem believable enough to me as a reader. Additionally, after Moppe is initially taken on as an apprentice and clearly does better than her, it doesn’t motivate Antonia to work harder. Instead, she becomes so petty to the point of publicly humiliating Moppe during an important event. I also found it sad that Antonia came off as fairly classist. She never considered points of view from those in different racial and/or class statuses than her until the last third of the book. Did literally nothing about anyone else or anything outside of her own life make her interested in researching more? Antonia eventually changed and took in others’ points of view, but it came too little and too late.

Moppe wasn’t that much better than Antonia, either, but I enjoyed reading her more than Antonia. I think too many plot twists were piled on her being both the long-lost, true princess and also being the Liberationist leader’s daughter. Had she encompassed one of those roles, I think plotwise it would’ve made more sense. Carrying both roles made her more of a plot device than an individual character.

I actually found most of the other characters more enjoyable to read. Nerine, Thalassa, and the other mermaid characters were fun to read when they arrived in their subplot. I wish they had more time in the spotlight. However, the more villainous characters such as Benedict could’ve been given more depth. The way they were written felt shoved into the plot for the sake of the novel having a final villain.

Worldbuilding Development: 4 out of 5 stars

I do think this became more of a high fantasy book rather than a more whimsical, lighter book that the cover showed. I also wish the dancing turnips made more of an appearance in the second half of the book. They could’ve been very useful when fighting the true villain of the entire book. However, I did enjoy worldbuilding as a whole. I found the Liberationists interesting, as well as learning the truth of the entire setting’s history over time. The way history affected all of the characters up until the present day was fun to see the effects.

I also thought the magical aspect of worldbuilding made more sense. However, I wish I learned more about the magical academy that Antonia wanted to get into. After all, that was her original end-goal and a major reason why she wanted to pursue magic and study under Betrys.

Overall, I’m rating this book 3 out of 5 stars!

I recommend this book for those interested in a complex political world and good subplots.

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