Sunday, May 28, 2023

External Forces - The Marrowbone Spells #2


External Forces is the second fantasy alternate-history adventure novel by Shannon Fay. Released 8th Nov 2022, it's 507 pages and is available in paperback, audio, and ebook formats. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links and references throughout. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately. For Kindle Unlimited subscribers, this book is currently included in the KU subscription library to borrow and read for free. The first book in the series, Innate Magic, is also currently available on KU. 

This is an entirely action driven plot and the ensemble cast careen from drama to crisis and back again without pause, more or less throughout. There's not a lot of dramatic range in the individual characters, and the good ones are misunderstood and generally good and the bad ones are thoroughly despicable more or less throughout. There are a couple of redemption arcs, but for the most part, the characters continue on the path they're on from start to finish.

The world building is quite interesting and the schools of magic and how they work are clearly the product of a lot of work and planning by the author. The basic framework of the world is *very* loosely based on our own world, and despite the stated time setting of 1958, the dialogue, setting, and character interactions really hearken back to a much earlier time period (Georgian or Victorian); so much so that mentions of automobiles or James Dean (for example) are quite anachronistic and jarring. 

The draw for many YA/NA readers will be the exploration of gender roles, romance, and romantic entanglements. Several of the primary characters are gay, bi, curious, ace, and/or aro. There is a fair bit of cross dressing and fun inclusion of cloth magic as a tool for cross dressing expression included in a non-judgemental way. 

There is some graphic violence, including a shocking disfiguring death-by-fall, consensual and non-consensual torture and body horror, and murder. There's an extended torture scene which sensitive readers will probably want to skim. There's also some undead(ish) horror-lite, as well as a fair bit of consensual strongly implied intimate physical contact.

Well written but often meandering. Worth a look for fans of Sarah J. Maas and Cassandra Clare. It's not explicit or steamy, but there is strongly implied physical contact. It's the second book in the series and doesn't work super well as a standalone read.

Four stars. 

Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes.

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