ARC Review: “Magisterium” by Jeff Hirsch

Magisterium by Jeff Hirsch

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On one side of the Rift is a technological paradise without famine or want. On the other side is a mystery.

Sixteen-year-old Glenn Morgan has lived next to the Rift her entire life and has no idea of what might be on the other side of it. Glenn’s only friend, Kevin, insists the fence holds back a world of monsters and witchcraft, but magic isn’t for Glenn. She has enough problems with reality: Glenn’s mother disappeared when she was six, and soon after, she lost her scientist father to his all-consuming work on the mysterious Project. Glenn buries herself in her studies and dreams about the day she can escape. But when her father’s work leads to his arrest, he gives Glenn a simple metal bracelet that will send Glenn and Kevin on the run—with only one place to go.
With MAGISTERIUM, Jeff Hirsch brings us the story of a complex, captivating world that will leave readers breathless until the very last page.

3 1/2 stars

Thank you to NetGalley and Scholastics Press for this eARC! You can pick up a copy of your own on October 1, 2012.

When I began reading the book, something stopped me right before the book even started. In the dedication, Hirsch had written “For Gretchen, my greatest Affinity.” I actually shouted, “WHAT?” because for one crazy second I thought he was talking to me because freaking nobody has my name. (Except for a few people. But they are very few.)

Perhaps that set me up with expectations that could never be met.

To be fair, Hirsch set himself up with a FANTASTIC premise. I actually never realized this was a dystopian until the first explanation of the Rift in the first few pages (which comes in Glenn giving Kevin a history lesson he doesn’t need. Sigh.).  I was thinking we were setting up for a more fantasy/straight scifi adventure, which in a way it was. No, not because technically dystopian is a subcategory of scifi, but rather because the mix of the two genres was ridiculously neat. While in the Colloquium (the technological paradise side of the Rift), the story is straight scifi. While in the Magisterium for the first part, it’s almost straight fantasy. Towards the end they mix gradually, and it was SO COOL. Talk about the best of both worlds.

However, Hirsch’s world building didn’t sell me on the concept as solidly as I would have liked. There weren’t too many giant gaps, but the little things irk me. In places it showed that Hirsch did have some world building down, so I tend to blame this one on bad pacing. Throughout the entire book, huge, plot altering events were blown by in the blink of an eye with the minimal of explanation. Half of them I was struggling to understand pages later, when they were already seriously affecting the plot, and they were never elaborated on afterwards. Unfortunately, I can’t give you an example of where I felt this the worst because it might spoil some things, but let me just say the character of Kevin turns bipolar for reasons I don’t understand to this moment.

The characterization of Glenn also turned me off the book. I never connected with her, mostly because her first instinct was to be passive. I am not a fan of passive main characters, especially when there are TWO other characters trying to kick Glenn in the rear for the whole book and she’s like “No I don’t want to hurt anyone anymore so I’ll try TALKING to the bad guy” and worse. When the dude is killing people and toting around trebuchets, I think we’re a little past talking.

The plotting and characterization throughout the novel were big problems for me, but I found them to be my only problems. It was just unfortunate that they didn’t extend just to one part of the novel or one character. Still, I found myself able to read around these problems if only to read more about the world. Having this much magic within my scifi made me a very happy person, and the description of the magical beings and powers were spectacular. I found the actual plot to be fairly predictable–right up until the end, that is. That’s when Glenn FINALLY made some proactive choices and shocked the socks off me.

All in all, I would recommend this book if you were looking for a very fast read that mixes up just the right amounts of scifi and fantasy. I did enjoy it, but the stickler editor in me found a few too many large technical problems to be totally satisfied. That said, I will be looking forward to getting my hands on the second book in this series, which I will add to me “to-be-read” list as soon as Goodreads get any information about it. I think this story has potential, and Hirsch can only improve from here.

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