Signatures by James A. Hetley

I wrote this review for the LibraryThing Early Review program.

I appreciate a book that puts limits on magic. I hate wizards who are one step removed from gods. Magic has a cost and I really appreciate it when it is the wizard (and not the amorphous universe or animals or plants) who has to pay that cost. That was one of the first things I noticed and appreciated about SIGNATURES. I felt like this was magic I could relate to because it wasn’t some all-powerful deus ex-machina. It was a tool that served several functions, but there were places it could not go. I also liked the subversion of the ‘long-lived magician’ trope. Magic, in this book, actually limits the life of the user because of how it burns energy for them. That was excellent. Also, the way the mystery was laid out was extremely interesting. I liked how things worked together and wove into each other. The plot was fun to follow and it was well-paced. I wanted to know who the killer was, but I didn’t mind the side trips into relevant details because they kept things moving in the right direction.

But even with all that good, I gotta say – the narrative devices didn’t work. The detective tells us at the beginning that he’s conflated cases to protect identities, he’s out-right lied in places, he’s not telling the story as it was but in a way that still gets it off his chest. Fine. Cool. Good to know. But the detective often breaks the fourth wall to remind the reader of that fact (and other things, too) and IT IS SO DISTRACTING. It took me about a week to read this book because I kept getting thrown out of the story by the narrator. The main character (and his unlikely sex god status) was CLEARLY wish-fulfillment and made it pretty darn obvious this book was written by a middle-aged white dude. This was also something that constantly threw me out of the narrative and the narrator’s fourth-wall breaking humble brags (In the vein of: “I know what you’re thinking, it’s totally unlikely that a fat, balding, retired cop would gather all these women to him, but I DIDN’T ASK FOR THIS THEY JUST THROW THEMSELVES AT ME!”) just made it worse. Each of the last four chapters felt like it should have been the ending, but there seemed to always be more chapters. !!!!!SPOILER ALERT!!!!! The author clearly tried to be inclusive, but the only diverse characters all DIE and one of them *entirely* unnecessarily – oh, and she’s PREGNANT (‘woman’s death is more tragic because she is pregnant’ is the most disgustingly over-used trope and I hate it and it should die). Also, the reveal of why these crimes were committed was so pathetic and tired and trope-tastic, it made me shout in anger.

In short: the book tried really hard, but ended up being VERY problematic.

C-: Plot was interesting, magic system well-developed and unique; trope-heavy, clichéd, and non-functional narrative devices.


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