Rated Reads

A Criminal Magic

by Lee Kelly

Rated: High

Imagine Prohibition-era Washington, D.C., where “shine” operations are illegal but still going on in hidden rooms. But instead of alcohol, the prohibited products are magic shows and magical drinks that give people an escape from dreary reality. A Criminal Magic shows the viewpoints of two characters caught up in the dangerous world of mob bosses who control the shows and “shine”: Joan, a young woman from a small town in Virginia who feels she has no choice, to help her family, but to go to the city to work for a crime syndicate underboss running a performance spot known as the Red Den; and Alex, a young man with a complicated background in illegal magic who is now working for the government’s prohibition unit.

Alex is working undercover to bring down the mobs and Joan is finding her power and herself in a grand plan of an underboss to really show the world what can be done when powerful sorcerers come together: he recruits and then winnows down to seven a group of sorcerers who can not just create amazing shows, but possibly even revolutionize the world of selling the magical and addictive “shine.” It seems a great opportunity at first, but Joan gets dragged in deeper than she ever wanted or imagined.

Meanwhile, Alex is essentially forced into doing his undercover work and every step of the way is fraught with danger. He meets Joan at the Red Den and instantly is drawn to her. Eventually, they get to spend more time with each other and fall hard. But they want different things, and are pulled in opposite directions. Love is a special kind of magic and has its own power and danger.

I gobbled up this book. The idea was creative, and the author’s writing was quite good. I was especially enamored of her fantastic use of metaphors. There were so many I stopped for a minute to savor. The story features magic but is centered in the underworld of ruthless mobsters, so it’s fairly intense. It’s YA, but is really more “new adult.”

Rated: High, for about a dozen uses of strong language and other milder language, kissing scenes, a sex scene with little detail, and regular violence, or threat of it.

— Reviewed by Cathy Carmode Lim

Cathy Carmode Lim has been reviewing books for newspapers for more than 20 years, two of which she was a book page editor. She founded Rated Reads in January 2008.

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  • A Criminal Magic
  • by Lee Kelly
  • Rated: High
  • Genre: Young adult
  • Reviewer: