Review: “Cantamen” by Calista Graylock

It took me quite a while to get into this one, but I ended up finding it an enjoyable read. This book follows Abby, who has just learned she can do magic (the book capitalizes magic throughout, which I found a little irritating since I’m not sure why it’s a proper noun) and will now have to attend school in a distant planet.

My critiques of the book are largely stylistic, but they’re significant enough that it does limit the strength of the recommendation I can give the book overall. The pacing is extraordinarily choppy, with important ideas often being introduced and then suddenly disappearing with no follow-up. The worst offender in this regard was Abby’s relationship with her absentee father, which was the most emotionally interesting part of the book but was never satisfyingly followed up on. The other thing I found challenging were the character descriptions, which are so focused on appearance (and what every single character is wearing in every single scene) that Abby started to seem quite petty and shallow as a narrator. Other than that, the writing is competent but lacks detail and beauty.

At the beginning, these shortcomings were really turning me off the book. However, as I continued, I found myself enjoying the read more and more. It is really steeped in magical whimsy, and the worldbuidling is extremely rich. It reminded me very much of Harry Potter, not just because it takes place in a magical school but because of the tone. There is conflict in this world, but mostly the theme of the book is “how cool would it be to have magic powers and go to magic school?”

And you know what? It would be pretty cool! Graylock’s book, in spite of its technical shortcomings, allows us to enjoy those adventures vicariously, and to me, that makes the book a success.


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