Strange Magic is the first in the Essex Witch Museum Mystery series. It follows Rosie Strange, who inherits said museum from her grandfather. Intending to sell it, she gets pulled into a quest trying to find the bones of a witch, after a boy appears to be possessed by the ghost of her son. Will she change her mind and help to restore the museum, or is she just in it for the money?
You can see right away what the problem is here. You can’t make much of a series about the museum if the plucky heroine decides to sell it… Lots of spoilers in this book study, be warned.
Similar to Miss Peregrine, this book suffers because it has to set up a series. As I’m sure you worked out already (spoiler alert!), she doesn’t sell the museum. The series structure won’t allow her to. But even by the very end, she talks about how she isn’t sure what she wants to do, if she wants to follow in her grandfather’s footsteps or not.
Also like Miss Peregrine, the book is heavily back loaded with Stuff. Lots of Stuff. I understand that an author needs to sell the next book by ending the current book with some kind of hook, but this one was a bit mad.
The bulk of the book is quite minimal, and I liked it. Rosie, along with Sam the museum curator, follow a series of clues around various towns in England to locate the bones. A gentle, lightly supernatural mystery, with a light romance sub plot that didn’t really work.
But oh. By the end we got something very different indeed.
By the end, a secret cult, run by a celebrity, is trying to make a potion out of bones and sacrificial blood to gain eternal life, face off against the government’s secret anti-occult agents, of which Sam is kind of a member. This basically all happens in the last chapter, with no hints of any of this before. It’s completely bonkers.
I can only presume that the government agency is a much bigger part of the future books, or that the author wanted to add a lot of drama into what was quite a slow and cosy book.
But with that said, I had a lot of fun reading this. The whole thing was pretty dumb, and it made me happy. I wouldn’t say it was good, but there was a certain charm to its nonsense.
The lesson here is in the ‘series paradox’. It isn’t very satisfying to revolve a story around a question that is already answered just by the fact that the book is the first in a series. Will the hero survive? Yes, obviously, this is just book one.