Title: Azrael’s Twins
Author: V.J. Mortimer
Series: Nearworld Tales #1
Niamh and Grady O’Connell never expected to find out that their parents are magic-users from another world slightly offset from our own. Or that they have powers too, and an evil sorcerer is after them. With the help of a phoenix, a unicorn, dragons, and more, their lives are about to change entirely. On the other hand, school is still school, parents are parents, and sometimes things can feel a bit TOO normal . . .
I have very mixed feelings about this. I started reading for the promise of a phoenix, and because I generally like portal fantasies (all the more so because in this case, the whole family is involved and not just the kids). And I do really like the phoenix, though the dragons are mostly treated like slightly smarter horses. The magic system is messy, but not the worst I’ve read, and it supports the story well enough. The characters are generally decent, with a few more unique angles, like the were-setter.
The main problems I had were that the story gets sloppy in a couple of places, and extremely derivative in others.
First, the sloppiness. Niamh and Grady have lots and lots and lots of magic, but no training at all, and unsurprisingly find themselves having a hard time actually using it once in this wonderful new world. There’s specifically some kind of block on their powers . . . but this seems to equal not wanting it badly enough, and once given enough incentive, they unleash their full potential. This was extremely unsatisfying. The plot had been hinting it might have something to do with the fact that both kids were born in the world of deep magic (and it also feels like cheating that being born on normal-Earth qualifies you for both magics, but magic-Earth only qualifies you for normal magic). In the end, though, it’s just “try harder.” And it’s really hard to gauge what any magic user is capable of because the most we get in the sense of limits is simply elemental, but then a number of spells like transformations don’t exactly seem limited to a particular element.
Second, the derivative nature of a few key components. To be honest, the iWands almost made me quit the book. We have an obvious Apple clone, from the way the wands are named, to the way they look, to how they’re sold in stores, and even an app market. Why? Why can’t there be something magic-specific (even if it is a particular type of wand)? Why would an alternate-Earth reflect that kind of product placement when those wands are basically the only thing that does?
The school portion is obviously going to remind people of Harry Potter, and the prose makes a few digs at that (including, amusingly, a conversation about why they’re still learning ordinary subjects and not magic-specific ones). Why NOT magic classes, though, even though there’s no reason for it to be the whole curriculum? And the allowances for the “games” done over breaks and lunch is frankly crazy and I’m amazed no one’s getting killed. No one bothers to protect students like Grady who can’t defend himself, and the one instance that pushed things too far relied more on the students not seriously wanting to kill each other to work out. These aren’t little spells—people are getting transformed. So why the lack of adult interest?
And why broomsticks? Why are we once again shown someone who gets a handcrafted, high-qualify broom that’s the envy of every other kid in the school? It’s almost forgivable because their parents are royalty, and therefore rich enough to afford it, but still, it’s going to draw even more parallels to the famous boy wizard this story is trying (mostly) not to emulate. No one has bothered finding something more comfortable than a stick between your legs in the supposedly modern era in which they live? There’s no technical reason presented for why it has to be broomsticks and not a flying car, or a surfboard, or something that might actually be better suited for riding. I get that broomsticks are traditional, but if we’re going with an iPhone clone for a wand, why wouldn’t the transportation be a bit nicer?
Anyway, I could go on, but the characters aren’t particularly noteworthy, and the setting and plot are full of holes. Some people may have less trouble with the things that bothered me, but I don’t intend to go on. I rate this book Neutral.