New Hampshire-based writer Kat Howard understands that magic isn’t easy. As she demonstrated last year in her debut fantasy novel, “Roses and Rot,” enchantment takes a toll on those who wield it, and acts of sorcery are never without consequences.
In her second novel, “An Unkindness of Magicians,” Howard widens her narrative focus to chronicle the machinations of the secret rulers of New York City. These powerful enchanters accumulate wealth and prestige as they walk unnoticed among the normal people – trading, storing and stealing magic like a tangible commodity.
As the novel opens, the Turning, a time of great change, is about to descend upon the Unseen World, the mystical plane from which magicians draw their power. Representatives from each House of magic receive notice by text, email or elaborate handwritten note: “Fortune’s Wheel has begun its turning. When it ceases rotation, all will be made new.”
Through a series of magical duels, each House will vie for dominance over the others. At first, the contests are non-lethal, with failure more embarrassing than life-threatening. Eventually, though, some contests will be winnable only by the death of one of the opponents.
Howard peoples her book with a strongly detailed cast of magicians. Miranda Prospero considers her House situated to withstand whatever upheavals might occur. Miles Merlin runs the top-ranking House and means to keep it that way. Up-and-comer Laurent Beauchamps believes it prudent to hire a champion to stand on behalf of his House.
Beauchamps’s champion is a wild card, a formidable contender named Sydney. Given as a child sacrifice to the House of Shadows and now released on a short leash to do the House’s bidding, Sydney fosters her own agenda of exposure and revenge. She feels a lot of justifiable anger at having been dumped into hellish servitude for decades.
Howard writes, “She planned to drag all those dirty little…