The Most Average Book Ever – a review of Dark Passage by MJ Putney

Guys, we did it. We found a perfectly average book!

I don’t know if that is a good thing or a bad thing, but here we are. This book is perfectly balanced with its highs and its lows. This leaves me genuinely not knowing what to think of this book, but here we go I guess.

Victoria Mansfield returns from 1940 with her fellow magically inclined friends, whom helped out at Dunkirk to evacuate soldiers, and they return to Lackland academy to pretend to suppress their magical abilities and secretly meet at night to train their prowess. Soon it is the Christmas holidays, and the students must face the repercussions of embracing their magical talent. However, upon their return, their magical help is needed yet again in 1940 to evacuate a scientist imprisoned by Nazis in France, who holds the greatest medical discovery of his time in his hands.

One complaint I had with its predecessor was that the time travel aspects were barely foreshadowed, but in this second book it did a far better job. The plot was intertwined much greater with the connections between 1803 and 1940, historically and geographically, and it made for a very cohesive and satisfying plot. This was absolutely the strongest part of the novel, especially in the second half of the novel. This made the worlds too feel far more built out and cohesive.

Except for the subplots. Some subplots were inserted that had little to no connections to the events of the rest of the novel, and one of these subplots was practically useless. It was a couple splitting up and then getting back together after they realised how much they truly loved each other. The main plot points did nothing to enhance this, because they did it way too naturally. This is the worst kind of subplot – where you can pick it up and place it in any story and it works. No events contributed to this development once, at least not frequently enough.

Furthermore, the magic system felt very clunky in here. There were some moments where I thought they did make sense – such as their powers strengthening and they ways they could channel each others’ powers, but then there were moments where characters suddenly realised they had new powers or they just popped up out of the blue in the lead up to the climax as a solution for all that was going on. That’s a narrative sin we like to call the deus ex machina. There was no development whatsoever for Cynthia to casually say she has the powers of persuasion!

What’s just as weird is how reliant on dialogue this novel was, especially later into the book. The word count could be reduced significantly if they just made dialogue exchanges far more concise! I’m pretty sure the characters spent an entire chapter sitting outside of their mirror passage planning what to do and then doing it. Situations happened like this multiple times. Just do a timeskip and have the thoughts of the main character lay over the plan that was laid down and the shock if the plan goes to shit! It isn’t rocket science!

A final, very average point of discussion is the character arcs. Many of these felt short lived or not deep enough to make a significant change to the main characters of Tory and Cynthia. I can identify two somewhat minor ways that Cynthia changed and no significant ways that Tory changed over the course of the novel. The lessons they learn for the feats that they undertake are very small. I can only just accept them as character arcs.

Just as much as I can minimally say that this book was good. I didn’t hate it, not did I like it. It is about at split-down-the-middle average as average could get.

Dark Passage gets a score of 2.5/5. Perfectly balance, not as all books should be.

Yours in writing


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