Magic Dark and Strange lacks the magic its title suggests

Magic Dark and Strange by Kelly Powell / Image Courtesy of Simon and Schuster
Magic Dark and Strange by Kelly Powell / Image Courtesy of Simon and Schuster /

Kelly Powell returns with Magic Dark and Strange, a young adult novel that unearths the dead but plays very little with the magic at its center.

Upon seeing the cover of Kelly Powell‘s Magic Dark and Strange for the first time, I imagined I’d be swept away into a world of magic and mystery where the dead rose ever briefly at the command of one Cathrine Daly. And while I was certainly taken on a ride with Ms. Daly and her companions–Guy Nolan and Owen Smith–the story lacked the magic its title and cover suggests.

Set in the town of Invercarn, Magic Dark and Strange is a young adult novel that asks the reader to believe in the individual’s power to take hold of time and manipulate it through blood and personal sacrifice. Powell, however, does not detail how this is possible, who is able to wield magic, why they can do it, and whether it’s regulated. Instead, the ability is at the whim of the narrative.

Catherine is able to temporarily resurrect the dead in exchange for time off of her own life. If she brings someone back for an hour then she loses an hour of her existence. She does this as a side job, an addition to her duties as a typesetter in the local print shop. For Catherine, it’s a means to an end, but there’s barely any exploration of her feelings regarding this work or why she’s been selected to do it.

There’s also no reason given for why Mr. Ainsworth, her boss, tasks her with unearthing a grave in search for a timepiece that will bring someone back from the dead permanently. It’s clear he wants the time piece for himself, but if he trusted her with the task then his distrust when she tells him she didn’t find the piece, is out of place. It seems to only serve plot expediency forcing Catherine to enlist the help of Guy lest she be thrown out into the street.

The mystery of where the timepiece could be and the subsequent accidental resurrection of Mr. Owen Smith is the crux of Magic Dark and Strange‘s plot. Here is where the intrigue should lie but while Powell is masterful with description, the dialogue in this book lacks substance. The story’s characters and relationships struggle to hold weight in a meaningful way because they feel interchangeable, replaceable, and at times, inconsequential to the narrative.

Powell has created an interesting world in Invercarn. Magic seems tied to time. Married in a partnership that steals from those who wield it. The beneficiaries of its use tend to be those who pay for its application not those gifted with magical abilities. However, as much as it costs the magic wielder to use, there wasn’t an equivalent exchange which was odd.

A silver coin for an hour of one’s life. Information for hours of one’s memories. While reading Magic Dark and Strange, I found myself wondering about this system and who set it up. Why do non-magic users benefit more? Why is magic simultaneously in demand and yet so discounted monetarily? Why is the magic in this world a mystery to me as a reader when this is a magic based fantasy?

Magic Dark and Strange left me with a lot of questions despite having a nice and tidy mystery that’s wrapped up well though its description of being a mix between The Bone Witch and Sherlock Holmes is misleading.

Yes, the story features necromancy and a mystery, but Catherine’s powers aren’t explored with depth, she’s not going through training of any kind, and she’s not an investigator or particularly interested in strange cases. She’s a young woman trying to survive while bodies drop around her and the timepiece is the key to righting her once orderly world.

Magic Dark and Strange is a good fit for readers willing to take magic at face value without question, who are more interested in the mystery surrounding the missing timepiece and Owen’s lost memories.

In this historical fantasy, you’ll be transported to a world where the graveyard is perilous in more ways than one from the watchmen who will hold you at gun point to the resurrectionists robbing graves for a sum. But don’t expect the magic to be more than a side piece to the mystery.

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Magic Dark and Strange is available now in print, audio, and e-book format.