A review of Magic Lost, Trouble Found, by Lisa Shearin

READ NOVEMBER 2013

ONLINE PLOT SUMMARY: A girl with attitude. An all-powerful amulet.
This could only mean trouble.

My name is Raine Benares. I’m a seeker. The people who hire me are usually happy when I find things. But some things are better left unfound…

Raine is a sorceress of moderate powers, from an extended family of smugglers and thieves. With a mix of street smarts and magic spells, she can usually take care of herself. But when her friend Quentin, a not-quite-reformed thief, steals an amulet from the home of a powerful necromancer, Raine finds herself wrapped up in more trouble than she cares for. She likes attention as much as the next girl, but having an army of militant goblins hunting her down is not her idea of a good time. The amulet they’re after holds limitless power, derived from an ancient, soul-stealing stone. And when Raine takes possession of the item, it takes possession of her.

Now her moderate powers are increasing beyond anything she could imagine—but is the resumé enhancement worth her soul?”

MY REVIEW: Magic Lost, Trouble Found, book one of Lisa Shearin’s Raine Benares series, was one of the more pleasant reading experiences I’ve had in some time. Up to a point, about which, more later.

The world and the story are each interesting, if not terribly novel and Raine is a very likable protagonist, smart, smart-mouthed, determined, brave, but cautious, and uncompromisingly loyal to her friends. The majority of the supporting cast were enjoyable to read about, as well,  and although we don’t spend a huge amount of time with some of them, they’re important to the plot, and, at times, help us learn more about Raine. In other words, they‘re not just there to take up space, as is far too often the case.

The villains are considerably more stereotypical, especially in their dialog, and not nearly as well fleshed-out as the “good guys.” The main antagonist, a goblin shaman, is a caricature of the psychopathic evildoer, completely one-dimensional. I would have loved a little more depth in his case, even some understanding as to why he turned so thoroughly to the “dark side.”

One thing I liked, though it may seem like a minor point, was the variety in the names of the characters. Benares has a decidedly Mediterranean feel, Spanish, Italian, even Greek. Raine’s cousin Phaelan sounds Irish, his name, anyway. Her sometime associate, Quentin, could be a Brit. The principal villain, Sarad Nukpana, could even be Japanese, as could another nasty, Chigaru. I know this doesn’t take place on our world, but, it’s impossible not to make comparisons of the names. Long story short, the wide range here adds a certain richness to the world Shearin’s created.

I’ve seen a few people classify this as PNR, but, there’s really only a hint of romance: A couple of breath-stealing kisses is about it. I really didn’t care much for either of Raine’s potential romantic interests — well, one is really more sexual than romantic — but that’s just me. In fact, I’m beginning to think that sometimes I fall in love with the lead character while I’m reading, and so I come to resent the competition, so to speak. It’s great than an author can create a character you love, but, a little silly to turn into a first-crush teenager about it. Anyway…

The plot moves along at a pretty good clip, nicely paced, and Shearin manages to hold our interest even during the lulls in the plentiful action, mostly via humor, but also by providing salient back-story. Such sections never feel like info dumps, though, largely because of the first-person POV, and the conversational style of he narration.

However…

Seems like I’ve been saying this a lot lately: The writing just doesn’t measure up to the excellent storytelling. It’s not that there are grammatical gaffes — well, okay, there are several occasions where subject and verb don’t agree in number, and that’s pretty annoying — but it’s really repetitive and cliché-riddled. In one scene, Raine tells us that she and her crew don’t want to call attention to themselves. Unfortunately, we’re told this probably half a dozen times in fewer pages. And, y’know, it’s really a “Well, duh!” remark the first time. There are countless iterations of phrases like “Now, if only I could make myself believe it,” or “But, I wasn’t sure I wanted to know the answer,” a lot of things like “That makes two of us,” or “At this point, I’ll take what I can get.“ Then there’s the ever-popular “You will come with us, or the boy will die.” Cue the spooky organ music. If goblins have mustaches, you can almost see him twirling his while Nell’s tied to the railroad tracks waiting on Dudley to rescue her. Or, maybe a “bwah-ha-ha-ha” afterward. And, in your mind, your hear “vill” instead of “will.”

I have to admit, though, there was one line I really loved: “Sometimes I hated it when I was right, but I always hated it when someone else was.”

Another slight quibble, though: Raine’s an elf, but, we never really get much of a clue what distinguishes the elves in her world from the humans. Is it just the pointy ears? Inquiring minds want to know.

From the viewpoint of the setting, this is an epic fantasy, but it has a decidedly urban fantasy feel to it. That might be off-putting to some purists, but Shearin mixes the two genres very well, and it makes the story move faster than the more laborious epic fantasies often do.

Anyway, Magic Lost, Trouble Found is a really good story with plenty of action and suspense, a nice helping of acerbic wit, and a protagonist that I liked a lot. That, in my opinion, the writing was’t as good as the story-telling doesn’t keep it from being very, very entertaining. Well worth you’re time.

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