When I picked up Southern Magic, by Amy Boyles, and the nice protagonist’s life went down the crapper within the first chapter, I felt an immediate connection. Or perhaps it might be more accurate to say that, being reminded of my best friend and the many ordeals he has endured, I reflexively felt a strong interest in how this character would turn things around. What cleverness and determination would they show? I wanted to know.
I was left sadly disappointed, and my interest waned more and more with nearly every turn of the page, to the point I was largely skimming the last few chapters.
Southern Magic, as the first installment in Boyles’ Sweet Tea Witches Mysteries series, follows 25-year-old Pepper Dunn as she is plucked from a life that is falling apart – courtesy of the lies and betrayals of those around her – and introduced to a world of magic. Turns out, her mother was a witch, she has several living, loving relatives, and she has inherited her uncle’s rare ability to converse with animals, as well as the pet shop with which she can pair animals with witches as their familiars. Oh, and she’s accused of murdering the old miser who wanted to buy the shop from her because she happened to be the one to stumble onto the scene.
I gather that the series is a number of murder mysteries, which, considering there are twenty such mysteries, would indicate that there are twenty murders, which, for such a small town and a community of witches, seems a little on the steep side. But that, really, is the least of my complaints.
Let’s start with how absolutely useless Pepper is.
After getting knocked down so hard in the first chapter, I was all set to watch her get back on her feet. Instead, everything is handed to her. Heck, it’s practically shoved onto her despite how she (for some reason?) tries to evade it. She loses her dead-end job because of a jealous, lying, spiteful coworker, and she gets handed an entire pet shop, a very important and successful one, to own and run. She loses her home and her belongings without warning, courtesy of a foolish, short-sighted landlady who is unquestionably breaking the law by barring her without warning, and she gets handed a new home alongside a family she never knew, not to mention suddenly holding a beloved place in the community because, being a nice person, people like her. Her boyfriend prioritizes fantasy football over her, no matter what, and is probably cheating on her, so here comes Mr. Sexy, the handsome, most-eligible-bachelor-in-town, powerful, protective, helpful, private eye, with whom there is a great deal of (quite-literally-unbelievable) chemistry. Any time she is endangered, she is saved. She solves nothing, she accomplishes nothing, she saves no one, she always gets her way no matter how stupid it is, and so on and so forth.
Sound a bit annoying as a lead character?
Oh, the author tries to make Pepper all sassy and independent and all that, but seriously? There are far too many details to go into, but suffice to say all credulity was strained far beyond the breaking point. My favorite example, however, for how useless both she and her sexy PI friend were was in a scene where they hear the footsteps of someone, perhaps the murderer, nearby, and so they dive under a desk to stay out of sight. But though they can hear the steps of this person clearly, this person can’t hear them as they are arguing back and forth, with a possible murderer within reach, for no better reason than to try and claim the last word. That was just vastly stupid. Topped off with how the one piece of critical evidence they have – aka, the one thing they need to actually keep safe – gets taken from them while they’re whisper-arguing their sexual tension to the point where they kiss. Good grief!
That pretty well summarizes the state of almost everything in this book. The characters just fill generic roles, the plot happens just because, there isn’t much in the way of themes to address, and everything about the town and the magic and such was just kind of… there. For some reason.
…and what was the whole thing with riding skillets instead of brooms?! What kind of nonsensical detail is that?
Oh, and a small, personal disappointment, because I am petty: the people who wronged Pepper at the start could have gotten a little due comeuppance, but they were practically forgotten by the end, despite how one of them cost Pepper her job and another still had all her belongings.
Obviously, I did not much enjoy this book. Which is a shame, considering how relatively clean it is, and everything else it could have been and done. We could have had an enchanting tale of love, family, and second chances. The murder mystery wouldn’t even be needed at that point, but if the characters had at least acted with a fair bit of intelligence, then it could have at least added some real flavor to the plot. Instead of inexplicably forcing her way onto the investigation (because she’s both a suspect and a pet shop owner), Pepper could simply have inadvertently gained some critical piece of evidence (that did not need to be deliberately withheld in some way) and been targeted for it, giving her a chance to overcome some physical danger herself instead of always needing to be saved just because she was in the wrong place at the wrong time. That would speak to her determination and the strength of her character as she took an unusual opportunity and actually made a new life for herself by her own will.
Alas, we just got some cheaply hacked and poorly executed splicing of crime dramas, sitcoms/romcoms, and Harry Potter. I can’t even say that this was a good kids’ book, it was so poorly written.
Rating: 3 stars out of 10.