A Wicked Magic, Sasha Laurens (Razorbill 978-0-593-11725-5, $17.99, 368pp hc) July 2020.
The problems for best friends Dan and Liss began when they found an old book in the local giveaway box in their small North Coast California town. With almost all of its pages blank, they couldn’t resist the appeal of what was printed: “A Spell for the Making of Naive Witches”. They followed the directions and something happened; suddenly the book was brimming with spells and the girls were off on a grand adventure. Then a few months later they practiced magic at the crossroads and Liss’s boyfriend Johnny was dragged away by something dark and dangerous. That was two years earlier and, while Liss tries desperately to find a way to bring him back, Dan has kept her head down and tried just as hard to believe it all is over. So begins A Wicked Magic, a thrilling combination of mystery and paranormal coming-of-age that finds two girls forced to reckon with a broken friendship, monsters, both human and otherwise, and many, many witchcraft-related issues.
Author Sasha Laurens slowly builds layers of intrigue as Dan and Liss struggle to come together and search for Johnny while also investigating other magical activity in the area. A cult with nefarious plans has become entrenched nearby, threatening another friend, Alexa, and her family. Everyone is keeping secrets, including the town itself, and an area coven is either going to help or cause a lot of problems. Can they figure out what to do and how to do it to save Johnny? Is it even possible to save him? Will Dan, Liss, and Alexa get over all their individual fears and come clean and share their secrets before it’s too late?
Laurens ups the tension at all the right moments, while carefully balancing the stresses of normal teen life with those of witchcraft. A Wicked Magic isn’t Charmed; it’s much more grounded in normal teen life than that, and Laurens is determined to show that sometimes the magical stuff is not the most dangerous thing for a teen to deal with. (Trigger warning for cutting, which is handled with empathy and realism and is a key part of Dan’s story.) She also addresses the allure of magic and how, for sure, it is not something one should be learning about from reading a random book found in a box.
“To call it magic,” Dan thinks, “didn’t even seem right. The magic most people knew was a lie, either magicians and card tricks or the fantasy novels that Alexa loved to read. What she and Liss had tapped into was more than that – not a deception at all, but the opposite, a tide of power that ran through the world unseen, a current that they could never understand, that had crashed over them when they had their backs turned and nearly dragged them under.
“Magic wasn’t friendly.”
What the girls must do is get over their petty differences and hurt feelings and all the misunderstandings that everyone else has time to indulge, and tell each other the truth. Then they have to be brave because, as it turns out, Johnny isn’t the only one who needs saving. They also need to listen to a smart cat, treat a nearby witch with a certain degree of skepticism, and reconsider a town fixture who might be more than she seems. Also, some parents are awful, some willfully oblivious, and one much more than she appears. The girls learn to rely on each other and be brave, which is, after all, the most important lesson that any would-be witch should want to learn. A Wicked Magic is thus the best sort of paranormal novel, one with some snark, some wit, and plenty of smart teens who dig deep and, despite the adults, gloriously save the day.
Colleen Mondor, Contributing Editor, is a writer, historian, and reviewer who co-owns an aircraft leasing company with her husband. She is the author of “The Map of My Dead Pilots: The Dangerous Game of Flying in Alaska” and reviews regularly for the ALA’s Booklist. Currently at work on a book about the 1932 Mt. McKinley Cosmic Ray Expedition, she and her family reside in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. More info can be found on her website: www.colleenmondor.com.
This review and more like it in the August 2020 issue of Locus.
©Locus Magazine. Copyrighted material may not be republished without permission of LSFF.
While you are here, please take a moment to support Locus with a one-time or recurring donation. We rely on reader donations to keep the magazine and site going, and would like to keep the site paywall free, but WE NEED YOUR FINANCIAL SUPPORT to continue quality coverage of the science fiction and fantasy field.