Happy Friday, everyone, and welcome to a new installment of Pandora’s Box! Today Louise VanderVliet and Heather Stanton will be discussing Magic Unchained by Jessica Andersen. This is the seventh Nightkeepers novel, a series based on Mayan legend and the doomsday prophecy of 2012.
In this book, Cara Liu is a winikin, one of a servant class bound to the Nightkeepers, a band of mages tasked with protecting the world from ultimate destruction. Cara has long loved her foster brother Sven, one of the Nightkeepers. Sven though has been traveling the world, never staying put in one place for any length of time. As the December 21 date looms, Sven has returned to Skywatch, the Nightkeepers’ home, to assist them.
Though Cara is resentful of Sven due to the circumstances under which they last parted, she is still powerfully attracted to him. As the Nightkeepers and winikin come under attack from unknown mystical forces, Cara and Sven are brought closer together. With the fate of humanity hanging in the balance and her own fate as future leader of the winikin on the line, Cara must find a way to work with Sven and trust him once again.
Please note: The discussion of this book may contain spoilers for the series.
Heather: The Nightkeepers series is a long-running series that I am just now discovering. I really enjoyed Magic Unchained. While I had some trouble figuring out what was happening in the initial chapters, once I did I was hooked on the storyline, which I would give a solid B grade.
Louise, I know that you are a fan of the series and have read the preceding novels. What did you think of Magic Unchained and how did it stack up against the previous books?
Louise: Part of the problem is that Magic Unchained comes after what I considered the two best books of the series (Storm Kissed and Blood Spells) so it suffers a little by comparison. In relation to those two, Magic Unchained was a bit disappointing – not as intensely engaging. In addition, as you showed in your summary, the relationship between Sven and Cara is hinted at from the very first book, so there were a lot of expectations on their story. Though as a stand-alone book, I would agree somewhat with your grade of a B, but within the series, the book is average – not the best, but not the worst.
Heather: There is a lot of action in this book from the opening scenes in which demons attack the Nightkeepers and winikin attending a funeral to Cara and Sven’s quest for an ancient Mayan artifact to an entire subplot involving Nightkeeper Rabbit and his girlfriend. I liked the blend of action and romance and never felt like Sven and Cara’s relationship development was short-changed. Did you feel like the action overshadowed the relationship during the course of the story? Or was it a perfect blend for you as well?
Louise: I would say that the action and the romance was well-blended. Interestingly enough, this was the book in the series where Rabbit had the smallest sub plot. Usually he is a bigger player in the events and his book is the finale of the series. In fact, all of the Nightkeepers, except Rabbit and Dez, were strangely absent. This book focused more on the winikin than the Nightkeepers and the politics of that bored me a little. I missed the rest of the crew. I am curious, since you mentioned Rabbit and Myrinne, what was your impression of her? This is the first book that I started to like Myrinne a very little – how did you see her?
Heather: Myrinne was a tough one to figure out. I was intrigued by her and felt like there is so much more behind her character than we are shown here. I wanted to know more about her, but I suppose I will have to wait until the next book to understand her. Le sigh.
In the past, Cara was indentured to Sven by her father Carlos. I felt some trepidation going into the story due to their history with a master/servant type relationship, but it made for a fascinating relationship dynamic. Cara is such a strong character and certainly not of a servile nature that I felt like she and Sven developed a nice balance of power within their relationship. How did you feel about the nature of their relationship?
Louise: I wasn’t thrilled with all the emphasis put on it. Throughout this book, it hints at what had become something of a standard winikin/Nightkeeper relationship in the series. The relationship that both Cara and Sven recollect between Sven and Carlos was the “typical” relationship we see in the series. A mix of parent/child and bodyguard. Now, for this book, with Cara and Sven having essentially been raised as siblings and him being the stronger of the two, that winikin/Nightkeeper relationship is obviously going to be different. So to me, Cara was being a little petulant on the whole thing. Sven never saw her as his servant – ever in the series. So for that to be such a major aspect of the story was a little irritating for me.
Heather: Speaking of Cara’s characterization, I felt like hers was so strong, yet Sven’s was not as well developed. Had he made appearances in the preceding novels? I sort of felt like he was still a bit of a mystery at the conclusion even though we know he loves Cara.
Louise: LOL! Actually, I had no problem with the characterizations – either of them! And yes, the reason is probably that his character was very well established throughout the series – he is in all of the books and is an important secondary character in many of them. To someone who hadn’t read the others – I could see it. A lot of how he wasn’t written did assume that there were things you already knew about him. Since I did know those things, it didn’t bother me, but I can completely see where it would not come off strongly without reading the other books.
Now, about the ending – that was probably my biggest beef with the book. I felt that how he dealt with his “hang-up” wasn’t really explained. As a member of the coyote bloodline, throughout the book, much was made of him being a “loner” and always having to roam. How was that resolved? Even when he felt the need/want/desire to settle down with Cara, he was still pulled. Was the pull Cara’s familiar and once the two came together he was fine? Was that what we were supposed to take away from the ending? I couldn’t tell and that left me unsatisfied… And is Pearl, in fact, her familiar like Mac is to Sven?
Heather: I agree that there were some confusing circumstances at the end. My takeaway though is that Cara and Sven both realized that they are much stronger together than they would ever be apart. I didn’t totally understand the role of a familiar, but I blamed that on missing the beginning of the series.
Cara’s reaction to being thrust into a leadership role was realistic and poignant. She doubts herself, fears making the wrong decisions, yet is determined to prove her worth. One of my favorite lines from the story is “Her heart pounded and her eyes prickled with the threat of tears because she couldn’t have what she wanted, didn’t want what she was being offered, and couldn’t handle any of it.” I felt like this line summed up her feelings and inner conflict so well. Were there any lines that were standouts for you?
Louise: Honestly, no. Now, if you were asking about some of the other books in the series, I could make a loooong list! J So that says a lot. This book compared to some of the others in the series didn’t grab me the same way. If I were to say what I remember the best, it would be the scene where she gives him the Skittles. As children, they played card games with Skittles as the chips and I thought that scene really brought out to the reader that this was a couple with a long history and I liked it. Another part I liked was where we see their first kiss, which was told from her perspective in the first book, from his perspective and discover that his hurtful words were more than they seemed. Beyond that, I would struggle to remember anything. In fact, I read the book two months ago and had to reread it to prepare for this discussion because the particulars didn’t stick strongly with me. Did you have a favorite scene in the book?
Heather: I thought the other interesting relationship in the book is the one between Cara and her father Carlos. Carlos is a traditional winikin and takes his duties as leader seriously. He uses his daughter and binds her to Sven to get Sven to return to Skywatch. They have a tense, acrimonious relationship. He is a winikin first and foremost and a father second. I felt like the scene where Cara confronts Carlos is so well done. The drama and tension are high, yet completely understated. Carlos washes dishes as he does when avoiding a difficult conversation. Cara stands her ground even as she realizes that she will not have his help with uniting the winikin. The way it played out was touching because I could see both sides.
Louise: So, Heather, now that you have read Magic Unchained, will you read the rest of the series? I would think that reading this book first, it would have to be the story arc that would incite you to read the others as the rest of the major characters are mostly missing. Personally, my favorite character is Dez. He is the biggest mystery of the series, but once he joins into the action, he makes the biggest impact. Other than Rabbit, whose book Spellfire comes out in November, are there any characters that intrigue you?
Heather: Yes, I found Dez interesting as well, though we didn’t see a lot of him. The absolute last thing I need is another paranormal series to glom, but I think I am going to have to read them all from the beginning! It’s surprising to me that this series hasn’t received more buzz since, unlike a lot of paranormals, it delivers on its promise of a unique storyline.
In conclusion, even though we have different takes on it, I think we both can recommend Magic Unchained and the Nightkeepers series as fast, fun, and inventive paranormal romances. The next book, Rabbit and Myrinne’s story, releases in November. I think it’s safe to say this is one we both will be eagerly awaiting!