The Handbook for Mortals
by Lani Sarem

*I actually read the book!*

Since there are so many people giving it 1 star without reading it, I figured I would play devil's advocate and give it a read. It wasn't terrible -- it was, however, very unrefined and would have benefited greatly from better editing. If the author and publisher hadn't antagonized booksellers and libraries by cheating their way on to the best seller lists and making a cover that looks suspiciously like someone else's art, I don't think it would have the 1 star rating it has today. Maybe more like... a 3.

I decided to treat this book like any other first-time fantasy novel I would get from Netgalley, and give it an honest go.

I was moderately entertained, particularly by the last third or so. The premise is neat -- the protagonist is a young female Vegas magician, Zade, whose big secret is that she can really do magic, and who is struggling to keep her magic a secret from the techs, performers, and stage hands who are increasingly curious about how she can pull off such feats. In that regard, it reminds me of a couple books that I loved, like The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern and The Beautiful Ones by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. There is a vague notion of a possible villain, possibly doing villainous things -- but they appear to be the next book's problem. This book is mostly about resolving a love triangle.

...a love triangle where one of the love interests is the guitar player for the Plain White T's. Yes, the popular band. Although Wikipedia tells me that no one named Jackson has ever been in the band -- and while the real Plain White T's got their start in the 90's playing in bars around Chicago, this version of them in the book is the jam band for a magic show in modern Vegas, and hasn't made it big yet.

So, that's a little bizarre and a bit off-putting, and made me physically face palm.

The big climax of the book comes when Zade attempts a new stunt full of dangerous magic and something goes wrong, rendering her bloody and catatonic. The lead magician and one of her love interests whisks her away to her mother's home in Tennessee to see if her mother's magic can save her when medicine couldn't, revealing her secrets in the process.

I repeat: cool story line; bad editing. The story was told in a mix of first-person by Zade and omnipotent third person narration following around various other characters. It got a bit confusing at times, and would have benefited greatly from being completely first-person or completely third-person. At times I got thrown off on who the narrative was talking about. It caused the story to miss out on a lot of character-building nuance.

I'll probably read book 2 in the hopes that it is better edited. It's a shame that the publisher and the author shot themselves in the foot the way that they did with this one by angering the booksellers, bloggers, and libraries that should be a book's biggest advocates. It would have been so much better had they released some limited ARCs, got some scathing-yet-encouraging reviews, and re-released a better edited and more coherent version.

So, in sum: it doesn't deserve all the hate it gets.

But it certainly needs some work.

arc received from the publisher for review