Impractical Magic is a light and funny romance about the meeting between stage magic, à la David Copperfield, and the real magic of the Fae Realm. Alas, its lighthearted spirit is thoroughly spoiled by a hero who is, well, thoroughly spoiled.
Rose and Brand grew up together. Rose is the daughter of a faery and a mortal (the heroine and hero of Buttercup Baby). She has magical powers. Brand, too, is the son of a faerie and a mortal (the hero and heroine of Prince of Charming), but is without magical powers – his father gave up his Fae status long before Brand was born. Brand always loved Rose, but when he was thirteen he found out that she has magic and he doesn’t, and it’s all his father’s fault. He has resented and despised them both ever since.
Brand is now a stage magician, earning his reputation as the world’s greatest illusionist. Rose is a journalist who made a reputation publishing exposés of illusionists, explaining how they do their tricks. Her editor insists that she make Brand her next target, and offers her a promotion if she succeeds in exposing the secrets behind his illusions. Brand accuses Rose of using her magic powers to wreck the careers of those who don’t have magic. He offers her a challenge: she can come along on his upcoming tour and inspect his illusions, but she can’t use her own magic the entire time. Rose, who has never used her power to ferret out her stories, agrees.
Rose is a reasonably okay heroine. I didn’t respect her career path much, but the author does a reasonably good job of showing that her magic powers have had serious consequences for her life – not the least of which was the painful loss of her best friend, Brand, when she needed him most. She becomes increasingly sympathetic as the story goes on.
Brand, on the other hand, may be the sulkiest, whiniest, brattiest excuse for a hero I have ever read about. This guy is a rich and famous illusionist, who by any standards has achieved worldly success. I don’t expect that to make him happy, but it should have cut down some on the self-pity. But he spends enormous amounts of time dwelling upon his green-eyed jealousy: Rose has something that he wants, and it’s not fair. His internal dialogue is full of comments like “she didn’t need to work, not like the rest of them who weren’t so fortunate as to have magical powers,” and “she hurt him simply by existing, by having the magic he desperately wanted for himself.” Even more incredibly, he has allowed his jealousy to create a permanent rift between himself and his father, who could have given him magic, if only he’d somehow known years before Brand was born that Brand would want it. Brand makes absolutely no attempt to understand other people’s lives and decisions, only caring about what they mean to him and whether he gets what he wants. This is the hero, ladies and gentlemen. We’re supposed to like him.
The relationship between Brand and Rose alternates between the conflict I’ve already described, and repetitive lust-think, which I know will annoy some readers. Some of the humor is fairly funny, but (especially early in the book) much of it relies upon descriptions of Rose learning how to handle life without magic: she has to buy clothes! And when they get wrinkled, she has to iron them! Since I have to buy and iron clothes myself, I found the humor in these passages a bit flat.
The book gets quite a bit better in the second half, when Brand reluctantly starts to think about acting like an adult, and Rose’s magic starts to leak out of her and disrupt things in unexpected ways. There’s also a good secondary romance between Rose’s (human) cousin, Sequoia, and Ewan, a Fae. Sequoia promises to teach Ewan how to love, and I enjoyed their relationship more than the one between Rose and Brand.
If I hadn’t been reviewing this book, I probably wouldn’t have gotten to the enjoyable second half – Brand’s attitude grated on me too much from the very first page. If you’re in the mood for an amusing, magical book you might enjoy Practical Magic. But since the hero embraces the worst traits of self-involved adolescence, I just can’t recommend it.