Review: The Mage In Black

Posted: June 27, 2011 by in Books We Don't Like (2/5 single_star) Meta: Jaye Wells, Urban Fantasy, Books for Chicks

She’s a “shoot first and ask questions later” half-vampire with assassin skills, trust issues, and who must learn the magic inherited from her mage father in order to unite the dark races.


If you’ve read your share of chick urban fantasy, THE MAGE IN BLACK (Amazon) is more of the same. Unfortunately, it’s not even average more of the same. Perhaps I should start with what it has going for it: straightforward storytelling and fast-paced action. What it doesn’t have going for it? Everything else.

It starts off with Sabina, our kick-butt heroine, arriving in New York after leaving the good graces of her vampire queen grandmother in RED-HEADED STEPCHILD (Amazon). She’s on her way to meet her long-lost twin sister, she’s unsure what’s going to happen, how she’s going to make a living, whether she should kiss Adam the mage again—and of course they’re attacked en route. Gotta shake things up early! Cuz, you know, otherwise people might get bored with the predictable story. Also, make sure to keep it snappy and distracting enough so that readers won’t catch on that there’s little point to the opening violence to the plot as a whole.

For Sabina, once she arrives in New York, things don’t seem to get any better. The mage council doesn’t trust or approve of her. Maisie, her bubbly twin sister is too busy being the mage council figurehead and resident prophetess to bother getting to know her own sister. Adam the potential love interest spends most of the book MIA, absent on an important mission to the Fairy Queen—because the mage council has convened to decide whether they should go to war with the vampires and the mages are going to need all the help they can get.

Often a reader will be forgiving to predicable plots, mediocre prose, and simplistic world-building if the characters are worth caring about. Unfortunately, not even the main character escaped secondary-character syndrome: shallow stereotypes, without even much detail to add depth. Sabina’s first-person PoV emotional baggage was clunky and hard to sympathize with, especially since her decisions were inconsistent. She’s supposed to be a well-trained assassin, right? Yet she’s always caught off-guard by attackers, will find herself without a weapon during a fight, and goes broke when her funds are frozen by her grandmother’s organization… even though she had plenty of time to withdraw emergency cash. The secondary characters are, for the most part, flat and uninteresting. What are these peoples’ motives? Where do they come from? Why are they here? What do they like to eat/drink/wear/drive? Anything beyond the existing sparse details would have helped.

THE MAGE IN BLACK a half-vampire with assassin skills, trust issues, and who must learn the magic inherited from her father to unite the dark races.

Something that could have boosted character personality? Dialogue. However, there was nothing to differentiate one set of quotes from another, including the main character’s. Even then, the dialogue had no personality, was cliche, and did little other than awkwardly propel the plot forward.

One thing that could have really been cool was Sabina’s demon familiar Giguhl, but the demon wasn’t anything more than a sidekick for comic relief, whose origins, magic, and abilities aren’t given more than basic information. In fact, I had a hard time seeing him as anything other than a strange-looking, sex-obsessed guy who happened to be able to shapeshift into a cat, and who’s got some nasty street-fighting skills (how convenient).

The mage magic was traditional and dull—can’t they do more than “throw” a magic force to attack with? Anything? It wasn’t much different than Giguhl’s magic, now that I think of it… A more imaginative effort might have really added some punch. And speaking of fight scenes, they left me uninspired. Well, the opening sequence was pretty good, I’ll grant that, but it appears that the author’s imagination was used up for that scene, because the climax lacked a real sense of peril, purpose, and anything interesting. Then, we get stuck with no resolution and a cliffhanger. Yippee.

  • Recommended Age: 17+
  • Language: Scattered profanity, but not lots
  • Violence: Yes, there are vampires and werewolves and demons, so there's blood and pain
  • Sex: Lots and lots of innuendo, references, and one graphic scene

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