To start with, I need to say a massive thank you to Penguin Random House UK Children's publishing, for accepting my request to review this book from NetGalley, and to NetGalley for the service that they provide.
'You don't choose to be Gifted. It seems like fun at first, when you're setting things alight and bringing your mates out in spots. But then you notice that people are scared of you. They resent the fact that you can do these tricks and they can't. They're afraid you'll turn them into something slithery.'
'Gifted' might be one of the most unique YA books that I have ever read. Set sometime in (what I'm guessing) is the early 1900's, it focuses upon Frank, a sorcerer working for the police. He does forensic science work on the various dead bodies that turn up, and his working day takes a turn for the exciting when the Bishop of Oxford is found dead - and beheaded - in his library.
After the initial discovery of the body, Marvell, Frank's partner in crime, fetches him to investigate the scene, setting up some interesting personality dynamics within the first fifty pages. Frank's boss, Caxton, hates him with a burning passion, mostly because of a fear of sorcerers, and his co-worker Ferdia is post-peak, so that doesn't give them the happiest of relationships either.
But other than the initial set-up, this book moves extremely slowly, and the set-up is rather confusing to start with. I'm not going to delve too far into spoilers of the plot, because it is quite a good murder mystery and it is quite difficult to see who did it, and why. But I am going to delve into the world, explaining how the sorcery in this novel works, so that if you do pick this book up it will be a lot smoother to get into. I found it to be quite a struggle to start with, because all of these things were being referred to as if we should know what they meant, but they didn't get properly explained until a good quarter of the way in. So here we go:
First of all: there are tatties. Tatties are police officers, but they have some special attributes unique to this novel. Tatties can get insights, in which they will know something without a flicker of a doubt, without much reason. But in return for their insights and their astonishingly brilliant eyesight, as soon as they enter their late twenties they get the Blur, which takes most of their eyesight and leaves them nearly completely blind.
But the focal point of the novel is mostly definitely the sorcery. There are two laws in sorcery: the Law of Similarity and the Law of Contiguity. The Law of Similarity means that sorcerers can imitate things, an example of this in the story being the Elementals. Elementals are crafted by sorcerers, based off of real things (one of the earliest ones we encounter being a lion) and are summoned to fulfill a task (such as guarding an establishment). Once they've fulfilled that task, they poof! Gone, off into the unknown. The Law of Contiguity finds the link between two objects, and comprises of three rules. 'One: Contiguity fades over time to the point of undetectability, but never absolutely disappears. Two: it cannot be destroyed by magical means. Three: it cannot be magically induced between two remote objects.' This means, that because I am typing on my laptop at this very moment, there will be strong contiguity between me and my laptop. If I didn't touch it for fifty years, it might fade quite substantially, but the link between us will never completely disappear. Similarly to tatties, sorcerers can become post-peak, but as well as losing their eyesight they lose their ability to perform magic as successfully as they once could, relegating them to only summoning Elementals and performing magic tricks.
It might not seem completely vital right now, but the Law of Contiguity, and contiguity tests, are constantly referred to throughout the novel, and it was quite daunting at the start. The book is set quite a while ago, so shifting my mindset into an older time period and trying to get to grips with all of the magical lingo, it did take me quite a while to adjust, which meant I didn't enjoy the beginning of this book as much as I probably should have.
Other than the difficult to understand set-up, this is a really enjoyable book. Frank is a brilliant character, with a wittily sarcastic attitude that made me chuckle more than once. His response to the Anti-Sorcery Brotherhood, and their massive prejudice towards him as a sorcerer with no regard to his individuality, is very well-written, and perfectly demonstrates what it's like to be one of the outcasts of society. Frank does self-harm at a couple of intervals in the novel, which I found very uncomfortable to read, especially with him giving tips about how best to commit suicide by cutting your wrists, so if you do find scenes like that triggering I would recommend staying away from this novel. The self-harm is not a major plot point, but it crops up regularly enough to be worth avoiding.
Personally, I love Marvell's character a lot more than Frank's, but the dynamic between them - him wondering about when he's going to lose his magic and her worrying about when she's going to lose her eyesight - is the most interesting of all. The constant debating about who would have it worse when their time came was thought-provoking, because it really makes you consider - would it be better to lose your eyesight, or to lose the magic that you'd been trained to use as a living for the majority of your life? I'd automatically think that losing your eyesight would be the worst thing, but if you'd had something that made you special, and it went away... That could be extremely hard to deal with.
If you like detective books, this is definitely something I'd recommend for you, because it puts a new twist on a pretty much dead genre, but it's also a book that I would recommend for people who like books with magic and fantasy elements. Bare with it, because it does take a while to get into it, but by the end it's definitely worth the earlier struggle. There is a second novel coming out, called 'Pariah', and I'm not sure when it's released, but I'm definitely going to keep an eye out for it, because I can imagine this series just getting better throughout further installments.