Book Title Madly (Potion #1)
Author: Amy Alward
Number of pages: 384
When the Princess of Nova accidentally poisons herself with a love potion meant for her crush, she falls crown-over-heels in love with her own reflection. Oops. A nationwide hunt is called to find the cure, with competitors travelling the world for the rarest ingredients, deep in magical forests and frozen tundras, facing death at every turn.
Enter Samantha Kemi – an ordinary girl with an extraordinary talent. Sam’s family were once the most respected alchemists in the kingdom, but they’ve fallen on hard times, and winning the hunt would save their reputation. But can Sam really compete with the dazzling powers of the ZoroAster megapharma company? Just how close is Sam willing to get to Zain Aster, her dashing former classmate and enemy, in the meantime?
Should this book be picked up? the tl;dr review:
– Six cups of an adventure around the world similar to The Amazing Race (a quick read with good pacing)
– Three vials of fantasy with a dash of modern flare (the world-building leans on contemporary technology, alchemy, magic, and fantastical beasts but is underdeveloped)
– One special snowflake and one broody heir to a conglomerate (a romance of instalove)
– A teaspoon of a one-dimension villain (who doesn’t really do much to live up to the title)
– Add a drop of any supporting character to taste (most characters come and go for the sake of plotting)
– Brew with conviction (because a lot of the problems are solved with feeling and instinct)
– No goggles allowed to concoct this potion (there wasn’t much consequence for the MC)
One day, hype will win me over. Today is not that day.
Full disclosure: I received an advanced reader copy of Madly from the Book Blog Ontario Meet-Up. I extend thanks to Simon and Schuster for providing me with the opportunity to review this book.
Samantha Kemi is the granddaughter of a line of Kemi Apothecaries; once revered in the Kingdom of Nova for concocting quality potions. Those were the days before technology and science ruled the industry. Now, with ZoroAster Corp providing cheaper avenues of synthesizing everyday remedies, the Kemi name is nothing but the past. When Princess Evelyn is on the receiving end of a love potion, a Wilde Hunt is called and apothecaries from all over are summoned to find a cure-all—the perfect opportunity for Sam to restore glory back to her family.
Madly is akin to being taken on a wild journey as a contestant on The Amazing Race (The Nova Race?). If you don’t know what TAR is, it’s a televised reality-show competition around the world where you complete obstacles, create “alliances”, and immerse yourself in the environment…for a prize.
This book shows glimpses of contemporary realism (e.g. cars, planes, Facebook-like technology) in a fantasy setting; dipping into alchemical, magic, and gnarly creatures of mythology (like unicorns and shit). The catch is that despite everything being magical, Sam is ordinary and the magic system doesn’t have any bearings on her. There’s so much going on that it’s basically a Crock-Pot filled with different fantasy tropes and the world reads a lot bigger than what is explained.
It goes without saying that the pacing in Madly is on point and fun to read because it’s in the nature of the adventure itself. Simply put: there’s a desire to find the next ingredient and to imagine the destinations being traveled to.
The problem is that it’s founded largely on feelings or intuition as a measure of resolution. Everything is instinctual and Kemi’s are proven Wilde Hunt winners; essentially playing Sam up as the only competitor with the mental prowess to concoct the cure. Think on that again. It’s setting readers up for a no-fail journey on the get-go. Not only that, the actual grit of every other character only comes and goes as the story requires. Need a flashy entrance for a villain? Here you go. Think you have the solution? Nope, just kidding. Miscommunication ruining a friendship? Impossible.
The writing has a lot of after-the-fact telling that it keeps readers at arm’s reach for the entirety of the journey. If I’m to be taken on a perilous journey, the emotional aspect to care for these characters ought to be there—only it isn’t—and this might come back how these characters are designed.
While Evelyn’s POV isn’t the key narration to begin with, she does have a handful of chapters throughout (though the story still lives without it). That being said, Evelyn’s perspective is actually interesting to read despite it being a POV most disliked. Superficially: it’s ridiculous—she poisoned herself and is in love with her own reflection. But the subtext is important. It reads like narcissism but it’s a cry to love you for yourself. This borders on LGBT-qualities because though it is her own reflection, Lynn is a girl. With her family raising hell to change this one new tweaked identity of hers—that it’s now somehow a curse—the entire perception of normality becomes important.
Then we get to our protagonist, Samantha Kemi, who despite being studious and determined—all wonderful qualities to have in a MC—become easily disregarded when she walks around with a willy-nilly irrationality to life outside of her books and a dash of an invincibility complex. Many alchemists have a Finder; someone legit at seeking ingredients (note: because it’s their fucking job). Kirsty was this individual for the Kemi family. But you know what? Sam prances into shit fully knowing that it’s her first foray into the world. Like…I can’t.
This is compounded by the one-dimensional villain—monologues and all—who doesn’t have the moral ambiguous drive to punish the competitors to achieve victory. It’s juvenile to claim that the stakes are everything and yet the writing doesn’t support this by removing itself from potential consequence; to fear and grow from experience. I’m NOT saying I want the MC to die, rather that the story becomes thin when everyone’s a joke to begin with.
I’m not even going to begin with the Marty Stu love interest in this story. Jokes, of course I am. Let me get it out of the way that I will attribute Zain Aster to Zayn Malik. Otherwise, I will say that the instalove (or apparent slow-burn of lust over the years) ruined the read for me. Not only is their relationship based on a bunch of stolen glances, it’s the hot/cold nature of it that just doesn’t work. Maybe it’s fine for younger readers? It’s cute but nothing special because Zain is quite hollow thus far.
There’s an intriguing symbolism in the ingredients going into the remedy that’s refreshing to read into; being more than just some binary thing. If you’re looking to explore alchemy in fiction in a lighthearted way, Amy Alward’s Madly might be a good start. But with the lack of world-building and characters being grossly underdeveloped, I can’t say there’s a potion to cure the emptiness I feel after reading this book.