Book review of Remedial Magic by Melissa Marr


Ever since the mysterious disappearance and reappearance of her aunt and childhood guardian, Hester, Ellie has been determined to be as unremarkable as possible. Interesting people, she thinks, go missing. She’s content with her life working as a librarian and taking care of her aging aunt—with the occasional trip to Pittsburgh for dates with women she rarely sees twice. But when an impeccably dressed, impossibly handsome woman appears in the library sipping a cup of tea, Ellie’s world is set off its carefully controlled tracks. After a near-death experience involving an unfortunately placed cow, Ellie learns that she has magical powers and is teleported to the city-state of Crenshaw, where the strong are required to stay and learn to control their abilities, and the weak are often stripped of their magic and cast out. Despite the draw of Prospero, the mysterious witch in the library, Ellie wants nothing more than to go back to her ordinary life. There’s just one problem: She’s also the solution to a prophecy concerning the salvation—or destruction—of Crenshaw itself. 

Melissa Marr’s Remedial Magic is a satisfying addition to the magic school subgenre. Crenshaw is a witchy community college-cum-commune that exists somewhere outside of normal existence. It’s equal parts melting pot and pressure cooker, where people with disparate goals and fears collide with sometimes electric effects. Marr highlights the friction by hopping among the perspectives of Ellie and a variety of other Crenshaw inhabitants, like Maggie, a lawyer and mother desperate to get back to her son, and Dan, for whom magic provides an escape from cancer. While Marr’s shifting points of view does mean that Remedial Magic unfolds slowly, the variety keeps the novel from feeling like it has leaned too far into the “chosen one” trope. From the twists and turns of its sapphic romance to Crenshaw’s internal politicking, Remedial Magic is an excellent series starter that combines the aesthetics of a classic fish-out-of-water story with the sensibilities of a book for and about adults.

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