Book Review: The Opposite of Magic by Colleen Cowley

ImageAfter twenty-six years that had nothing in common with fantasy novels, her life was finally heading the proper direction.

Emily Daggett is a twenty-six year old woman who has never quite outgrown her love of fantasy novels. Her academic specialty is even the study of magic throughout history. Despite having grown up, she, like many of us, still wants to believe in something otherworldly, and well, magical. This comes in a form that she least expects – Alexander Hartgrave, a bald, grumpy IT worker who seems to despise her for her complete failure with anything technological. The novel shows us their relationship and dives deeper into incorporating magic in a cold and real world. However, there’s a problem. Emily apparently is one of the rare few that cannot use magic. She’s anti-magic. Talk about irony.

I liked this book a lot. The contemporary fantasy aspect of it was refreshing to me. There are no castles, no damsels in distress, no dragons to be slayed, and no curses to be broken. There is, however, a woman’s initial inability to distinguish fantasy from reality, a soul tortured by guilt, a tentative and unsure relationship, and a man’s greed from power.

“’You’re confusing life with fairy tales, Daggett.’”

Emily is such a relatable character. I’m sure most of us feel the same way that she does – we’re clinging on to the imagination of our childhood when anything was possible. We still dream. It was great to see a character that embodied this unwillingness to let go of the appeal of magic, and it was great to see her gradually accepting that magic is not as fancy and romantic as it seems in books. I love her character. She’s stubborn, smart, and has one heck of a conscience. She’s no damsel in distress, and she won’t stand by being treated as one, and throughout the book, she more than proves her worth through hard work and determination. She holds her weight intellectually and physically to Alexander, and because of this, their relationship works on so many levels.

Alexander Hartgrave is proof that snarkiness and intelligence should not equal to being an asshole. He also proves that you don’t have to be gorgeous to get a girl and that sexiness isn’t defined by outer appearance. He’s awesome, funny, caring, and totally likeable. His reason for staying away from Emily initially completely makes sense, and I found myself falling in love with the character throughout the book. Cowley has an amazing talent of making us care about her protagonists. We want to believe in them, and we want to root for them. Hartgrave and Dagett are so wonderful together without sacrificing each other’s true selves.

Not just because the two questions might be related, but because a mystery involving a shadowy wizard promised adventure. Nothing was more seductive than that.

I am not a huge fan of romance, but The Opposite of Magic is proof that done well, it can be enjoyable. The romance in this novel wasn’t the main aspect, but it was the highlight of this novel for me. It was both magical and real at the same time. It was a nice pace, and it’s almost as if it sneaks up on you. You don’t realize that you care for Hartgrave until Emily realizes it. You don’t realize how much you’re rooting for the two until their relationship is endangered. I was completely surprised at how much I loved these two together. Cowley did an amazing job on their relationship, making it so real and relatable.

Moving on to the magic part of this book, it was a little weaker than the rest of the book. It was interesting because it involved such a major theme in this novel, the relationship between magic and technology – the balance between the natural world and technological advances. The concept is really great, but as a huge science-fiction fan, the execution of the magic could have been a little more thorough, seeing as how it attempts to blend magic with science.

Another problem I had with the book is that Emily doesn’t quite act her age. I understand that she embraces the child in her, but at one point in a person’s life, we learn to contain this and act our age. I found myself forgetting her age and thinking she was eighteen or in her early twenties. If that were her true age, the novel would have made more sense, and I probably wouldn’t have batted an eye to it.

Another problem that I had was the ending. The whole book was so real despite the fantasy aspect that I was a little disappointed at the ending. It was a bit unrealistic and much too happy and clean for my taste. The whole book is such a nice example of magic living in a cold and real world that I was a little thrown off at the niceness of an ending where it seemed as if everything just worked itself out too coincidentally.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book, and I would definitely recommend it to contemporary fantasy lovers and for those who still hold their childhood dreams dear to them. I had my problems with it, but the good definitely outweighed them. I truly love Daggett and Hartgrave and their relationship. This book is great in showing us that life is not a fantasy. Even in a book where magic is incorporated in the world, Cowley reminds us that there is still a distinction even if they are sometimes intertwined. The real world is not as clean-cut and good as it is in a fantasy, and it is important to remember that. The Opposite of Magic is an enjoyable and fun read to feed our hopes and dreams of magic while reminding us not to throw away what we know of the world that not everything is black and white – there are gray areas.

”You take a few spare facts and embroider them into a love story. ‘He must be good, he’s fighting a dark wizard’ – as if life had anything to do with books. As if evil people never occasionally do the right thing.”

Want the book? Buy it here. 

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