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Review: Shadow Magic

Shadow Magic audiobook cover. A man with dark hair and a leather jacket stands in front of a magical circle as light crackles around him. Shadow Magic by Nazri Noor.
My rating:  4 of 5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Duration 7 hrs 35 mins.

Shadow Magic by Nazri Noor is the first book in the Darkling Mage series, a supernatural adventure which introduces us to thief-turned-mage Dustin 'Dust' Graves. We meet Dustin as he is beginning to come to terms with a more magical existence, and learns that he must use his new powers for something a bit more dangerous than pilfering some supernatural pottery.

Dustin is a classic 'lovable rogue', though one who probably told you that himself while excusing some sketchy behaviour. This wise-cracking wizard seems to find trouble wherever he goes, but has a cat-like ability to wriggle out of it. In the employ of a Top Secret Magical Corporation known as the Lorica, he is charged with solving the murders of old gods - 'entities' - who are being sacrificed by someone who is intent on absorbing their power. Someone who may also have been responsible for Dustin's own murder...

Shadow Magic was well written and I enjoyed the story. I really liked the premise but as the first book in a series I would have preferred Dustin's first adventure to have kept him at the Lorica. It is difficult to find the balance between setting up a series arc and creating a standalone story, but I would have loved to learn a little more about it and the other mages with Dustin still on the inside and part of the team, so I hope it features again in later audiobooks. Noor does a good job of setting up the alternate universe in which it is set; one where magical artefacts and supernatural creatures rub shoulders with the 'normals' in modern-day California. The book's lore develops nicely, and because our glimpse behind the veil mirrors Dustin's own journey of discovery it never feels as though there is unnecessary exposition. Some of the humour was a little laboured, with far more time than necessary given to a magical book of very little importance just so that Noor could make a joke about Facebook, but in a way that, too, was authentic. Guys like Dustin who make jokes about everything are going to drop a few clangers.

As I was listening it did feel as though there were parallels to a few other series' which may have had some influence on the author. Benedict Jacka's Alex Verus series and Jim Butcher's early Dresden Files bear a few distinct similarities, though fortunately without the misogyny which plagued the latter. It's difficult to incorporate old gods in 21st Century America without making people think of an acclaimed novel by Neil Gaiman, but Strange Magic is very different in tone and execution to American Gods, and does not feature the deities with as much prominence. The incessant snark and first-person narrative reminded me of the Magic 2.0 series by Scott Meyer, though that may be because the narrator also worked on that series. (Something I hadn't realised until I plucked Off to be the Wizard out of my Audible library to double-check the spelling of the author's surname for this review.)

I was very pleased to note that despite reminding me of these other great books, Strange Magic never felt as though it was borrowing from them too heavily and - most importantly - did not pale in comparison. It held its own very well, keeping me engaged and entertained until the end, and I will certainly add the rest of the series to my wishlist if this one does well enough for them to become available in audio.

The narrator, Luke Daniels, has an enthusiastic, expressive delivery which suited the protagonist's snarky showmanship. There were times when the relentlessness of the dramatic, irreverent, quips became a little annoying but that had more to do with the character than the narrator.

I would recommend this audiobook to fans of the other books I have mentioned, and anyone who likes urban fantasy.

An ebook copy of the prequel to Shadow Magic, Penumbra, is available free to anyone who subscribes to the author's mailing list.

*I received this audiobook free of charge in exchange for an honest, unbiased review

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