Madeleine (Maddy) Lavoie is an invalid. Her memories go back only three years. She has very few emotions. She hears voices - including her own, though she has always been mute. She tries nightly to escape her family home and has to be physically restrained. She naturally assumes that she is insane. Her first inkling, though, that something is seriously wrong, comes when her brother suffers an extreme change in personality, ignores her for a year, and finally kicks her out of the house. Alone in nothing but a shift, corset, and greatcoat, she encounters a number of increasingly bizarre characters, almost all of whom seem to want to control her, most of whom treat her as something less than human. Her assessment of her own sanity isn't helped much by the fact that one of them is a talking stag who claims she is his property. Maddy's goal, then, is to discover whether she really is inhuman, avoid being controlled or killed, and figure out whether she is capable of or even wants to feel love as normal people do. The Good:
Pretty much everything. I've reviewed Lamm before, and as before, her prose is stunning. She is a master of words. The plot she has crafted for Titan Magic is complex and unpredictable without falling into the trap of the outlandish that sometimes springs up when authors try too hard to defy convention.
I was very much intrigued by a protagonist who is both emotionless and mute, and I think Lamm dealt with those challenges admirably, especially given that the protagonist is female. It is very hard to find a female protagonist in fantasy (or any genre, really) who does not degenerate into hysterics at least once. Maddy is very practical and rational, except in one or two instances when she is supernaturally forced to endure someone else's emotions.
(As a slightly spoilery aside, I did take issue with her placing a woman in a position of "natural" servitude, at least for the first few chapters. Once I realized where she was going with it, though, I rejoiced in the allegory. Maddy's journey is very much womankind's journey from object to personhood as she seeks her voice and her own agency.)
Her world-building was beautiful, rich and complex without beating the reader over the head with the place's history. I do want to know more, though, about this political system and the old religion and the mythology. I hope for more tasty tidbits in the sequel. The Bad:
Not much. As some other reviewers on Goodreads have noted, there was an awful lot going on, and an awful lot of plot threads to keep track of, which made me go back to check on things once or twice. Also, while I found Maddy very interesting, it was difficult for me to connect with her for about the first half of the book. (I think this might be partly because of the word heartless in the blurb, which lead me to expect more cruelty than apathy.)
There were exceptionally few typos in the book, but I did notice that the author consistently used "bore" for "bared" in reference to characters exposing their teeth. However, the version I read was the version the author emailed to me, and that might be corrected in the version available for sale. The Interesting:
Or, things that stood out to me, but that I wasn't sure whether to call good or bad.
Lamm seemed to be setting up something like an ironic love triangle, in which neither potential love interest really worked well. Marcus is the brother, who later is revealed to be a sort of foster brother, who later is revealed to be a powerful supernatural creature without any real blood connection to the family. He can be pitied for his mood swings, which are caused by his being possessed, in a way, but toward the end, he turns up as bat-wig insane, even when not possessed. He seems to want Maddy to share in his world-domination, but is perfectly willing to use her up to get what he wants for himself. Jas, who turns out to be Maddy's creator, is described in various relationship roles, including mother and god. He starts out very whiny and self-pitying, which is addressed by other characters with all the appropriate disdain and exasperation. His character does evolve admirably. However, while he can be excused for having complete control over his creation, he uses that control to coerce her into actions she does not want to take, even after it becomes obvious that she has acquired a real personality. Of course, he has been brainwashed into believing her incapable of being a person, and does eventually come to see her as real, but I found it incredibly awkward that she should be romantically interested in someone who treated her as an inanimate object for most of her life.
That's both good and bad. I enjoyed the emotional contortions the characters had to go through, which is very much in agreement with real life, but I think I would have been happier if Maddy had ended up on her own for a little while.
*END SPOILERS*In Conclusion:
I recommend it. Lamm has given me the opportunity to beta-read the sequel before she publishes it, and I'm chomping at the bit to get into it.
Also, I'm not sure whether Lamm intended this book as YA or not. Several Goodreads users have categorized it as Young Adult, but I read it as a much more mature character study. I enjoy YA, but the majority of the genre is nowhere near as sophisticated as Lamm's work, and I think that readers who go into Titan Magic looking for fast plot and romance will be disappointed. Readers would be better off going in with the attitude that they will be given a thoughtful critique of humanity, couched in a fantasy framework.