Beggar Magic by H.L. Burke was the April read for the Fellowship of Fantasy book club. I zipped through this book in less than a week and loved every word of it. Burke has a sweet, easy to read, fun writing style that has not disappointed me yet. I tried to summarize the story myself, but I feel like I’m making a hash of it, so I’ll just share the blurb from the back of the book and then move on to my thoughts about the book.
In Gelia City, magic is music: a constant ever-changing melody known as the Strains. Hereditary ability to use the Strains divides the city into two classes: the wealthy Highmost, who can access the full potential of the Strains, and the Common tradesmen, who are limited to mundane spells, known as beggar magic. With the help of the Strains, Common teen Leilani rescues and befriends a gifted Highmost girl, Zebedy. The girls’ friendship opens Leilani’s eyes to the world of the Highmost. She’s intrigued by Zeb’s close relationship with the Strains, and longs to know them as she does. Zeb, in turn, comes to depend on Leilani’s strength and intelligence, making them an inseparable team, ready to take on anything with the Strains at their back. As their unlikely friendship strengthens and endures, Zeb draws Leilani further into the Highmosts’ intrigues. Beneath the polished, academic facade of the Highmost manors lurks a threat to the Strains. An unknown force consumes their music, leaving only heart-rending silence behind. Leilani and Zeb will do anything to save their beloved Strains, but as the silence grows, they face danger their previously sheltered lives could never prepare them for. Whoever is behind the death of the Strains is willing to kill to keep their secret safe. To preserve the Strains, the girls may have to sacrifice their friendship, or even their lives.
This is a well-paced adventure story. A stand-alone, the story wraps up rather nicely, though I feel that there is definitely room for more stories set in this world. While we get a fair view of Gelia itself, we only get a glimpse of the wider world Gelia is part of, and many questions about the world and the Strains are left unanswered. I loved the fantasy feel with a hint of steampunk flavor to the world, as well.
The characters are delightful and quite real. I enjoyed the stark differences between Leilani and Zeb, and the way that it affected their friendship throughout the story. I liked that the drama moments did not get too drawn out. When Leilani and Zeb had a fight, they sort of stomped off to their corners and dealt with it, and then returned to being friends without too much unnecessary angst dragging on. I liked that Leilani’s parents were cautious and strict, but not in a way that made them into caricatures in any way. They were very real, despite being fairly small roles in the story.
There is a sweet splash of romance in the book as well, between Leilani and my very favorite character who was one of the deaf guards – which was done very well. I don’t think I’ve actually ever read a fantasy story that included a deaf character before and I felt that Burke did a wonderful job with it. She also created her own form of sign language for the guards (most of them are deaf) because she felt that certain signs in ASL would not have the correct context in her fantasy world, so I appreciated the world-building aspect that this element brought into the story.
It is a very dear little tale, of friendship, betrayal, pride, and loyalty. And while you may be able to figure out some of the twists before the big “aha!” moment, I don’t think you’ll mind, because you’re going to be reading this book for the characters and the world. But if the mystery takes you by surprise as it did me, that’s just the cherry on top.
As an added bonus, the writing style has a flow to it that lends itself well to reading out loud, which I always appreciate.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book, but I kind of feel like it’s hard to write about. My blogging friend, Deborah, did a much better review of this one, and I agree with her write-up and like it better than my own… so I’ll just send you over to her site! DEBORAH’S REVIEW
And despite the noticeable lack of dragons in the story, I give this one Five Dragon Eggs