✎Title: Mystic City (Mystic City #1)
✎Author: Theo Lawrence
✎Publication date: 1st January 2012
✎Rating: ★★ (barely…)
Mystic City by Theo Lawrence gave me an unprecedented experience when it comes to reading; never before have I loved a book so hard from the offset, loved it most of the way through, only for it to shatter whatever love I’d nurtured so colossally as to mark it down to two stars by the end. By the end this book was little more than a tangle of nonsensical characters, a plot that struggled to hold even a raindrop of water and with the consistency of liquefied porridge. The problem with a book shooting itself in the foot in the third act is that you begin to look back at the first two parts with freshly sceptical eyes—and when that happens, the book is doomed.
The premise is so promising.
The world is split—although our world view is limited to that of (why oh why is it always…?) Manhattan—into those who are in possession of magic, and those who aren’t. There are two rival political parties (at least I suppose that’s the closest we get, since the political system is never actually explained, other than to say Roses versus Fosters something-something election for mayor, something-something) and these two sides essentially rule the lofty heights of the city, built to escape the flooding caused by rising sea levels and melting ice caps. Everyone else lives in the Depths of the city, where the water is rising and taxis are replaced with gondolas and boats. That’s fine.
Poverty is rife for those down below—never mind the Mystics who live in segregated housing, drained of their magic in order to not only keep them weak and unthreatening, but also to power the city itself. Again, all fine.
Aria Rose is, as the name suggests, the daughter of one of these rival houses. And Romeo and Juliet style, she’s fallen in love with one of the Fosters. But that’s fine too, because their parents have decided to allow them to marry in order to stand united against the Mystic, Violet Brooks, who might actually stand a chance at being elected major in place of the Foster candidate. It’s all very romantic.
Except that there’s something very wrong: Aria can’t remember ever meeting, let alone falling in love, with her new fiancé. Oh, yes, because not only is she in love, but she’s to be married. The thing is, Aria is still a teenager and so she’s freaking out. But the memory lapses are supposedly from a drug overdose that she brought on herself… only, she’d never take drugs, would she?
Yet any attempt to question the reality of things on her part is met with diversion and distain and the reminder that if only she hadn’t been so selfish as to take drugs in the first place… Essentially, she has nobody to turn to and must go along with the truth. But one night she is given a strange locket and urged via a scribbled note to “remember”. Then she meets Hunter, a boy from the Depths who also happens to be a Mystic. Not the drained variety, either—a fully-fledged Mystic who happens to be a rebel. She feels she’s known him forever, but she can’t remember him, either. But that’s not so strange when she can’t even remember the love of her life, is it?
Aria keeps having this niggling feeling that something is somehow off and it’s all she can do not to scream and stamp her feet and demand answers from her family. But that won’t help and instead she tries all she can to figure things out by herself. Only she might begin to wish she hadn’t, because the truth is so much worse than she could ever imagine.
And it really is. But then, ultimately, this book is so much worse than I could have ever imagined. I’m not usually snide about books (nor do I often call upon the face-palming powers of Kyon), but this? I invested real hours of my life in this book. Suffice it to say that it’s not very good.
If we excuse the fact that the romantic element is so much more forced than most instalove pairings, and the fact that Aria’s best friend is detestable (at least, we’re supposed to hate this self-obsessed twit, right? And how the hell is she even friends with Aria when they have nothing in common and half the time even Aria doesn’t seem to mesh well with her way of thinking?) and the logistics behind the twist are as little explained as most sci-fi’s attempt at reasoning out how FTL travel is possible, there is still so much wrong with this book that I really can’t even.
I loved this book until the final third, whereupon it all crashed in on itself and burned in spectacular glory. The characters are revealed as having no substance whatsoever and their motivations are barely covered in skin let alone fleshed out. Aria’s parents might as well be neo-Nazis with twiddleable moustaches—heck, why don’t they just go all out and tie Aria to some train tracks whilst they’re at it? Ugh.
These are the most ill-written parents I’ve ever seen, there only to play their designated parts. Their actions do not add up, their motivations are so villainous and shallow and there is no substance whatsoever. Never mind the fact that Aria and Hunter make for some of the most stupid protagonists in history. They repeatedly make the worst possible decisions, despite having prior experience screaming at them to do anything but the exact same thing, over and over again. Twice our heroes are thrust into trouble in the exact same way: if the stakes are so high, then these people would have wised up or never have got this far in the first place. Or, they’d never have been clever enough to have not been caught out before anything resembling more than a handshake could be forged between them. If they’re smart enough to have conducted one strand of their relationship behind everyone’s backs for at least some time, they are smart enough not to make the same mistakes twice. Or so you would think. Similar mistakes, okay, I can give. But the same? Not so much.
Ultimately the third act should have been all-revealing, fast and exciting and— it really wasn’t. It was dreadful. All that keeps the book from being given a single star is that the premise of setting and magic had so much promise. In regards to the plot, I’m not sure it could get worse. Not because it’s so bad, but because it was handled so badly in the end. We’re sitting, gnawing nails, waiting for the climax and—
And a clown steps onto the stage and falls over. Everything becomes transparent under the glare of all those final spotlights and all the strings become visible. Nothing stands up on its own, nothing makes sense. The adults are just as ridiculous as the teens, just as stereotyped and awfully crafted when push comes to shove. It felt like whatever worked in the razzle-dazzle of the first two parts disintegrated in the harsh spotlights of the finale.
The climax is more staged than if the characters were marionettes with a bad puppeteer. X person would not have died if Y person had actually moved their arse and person Z would not have even been present if practically the whole cast hadn’t for some inexplicable reason decided to up and away as though on some merry chase.
It was ridiculous and all moved into place on the stage just so, in order to make way for the sequel to fall into shape. Disappointing and just so… frustratingly fake. I can’t reiterate more how every single element of the final act can so easily be argued away, made to crumble away into little but dust.
It. Begs. Belief.
Shallow and difficult to believe and ultimately just so, so disappointing. If someone could rewrite the third act and make everything actually make sense and follow in the steps of the first two, then that would be great.
God. I’m furious at this book for sucking so much for apparently no reason other than the author didn’t sit down and read his own work and think “hmm, maybe that doesn’t work…” I was wary of the negative reviews this received… but now I understand completely.
Bad book, bad.