Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Review: MANDRAKE AND A MURDER by Ruby Loren


Rating: 1.5/5 stars

Hazel is a witch with no powers in a strange town full of witches, fortunetellers, psychics, and the like. She runs a failing apothecary and subsequently publishes a magazine about the weird happenings in Wormwood, when one day two magical aunts she didn’t know existed show up on her doorstep on the day directly after a murder in town.

This book seemed like a cute cozy mystery, a perfect fall read. The cover is cute, Hazel has a familiar in the form of a talking cat, there’s fake dating, and it has spooky vibes. Unfortunately, the book was supremely disappointing and I didn’t care about any aspect of the story whatsoever. 

On the very first page, our protagonist remarks how weird her town is, that Wormwood is the weirdest town in the country, full of witches, fortunetellers, druids, psychics, etc. and that weird stuff happens every day. But then throughout the novel, we don’t see any of that. I would have loved a more fleshed-out setting. Especially with how weird the town apparently is, Ruby Loren could have added in so many great scenes full of weirdness going on that would be perfect for that town, but we learn nothing at all about Wormwood. Hazel never ventures into town to see people or witness strange happenings or anything and it was very disappointing. This is not my only complaint about the setting though—the characters’ opinions about their town are horribly inconsistent. For the weirdest town in England you would expect the people living in that town to embrace it or at least accept it, but the characters act like their town full of witches is a normal town like any other, that all the psychics and witches and fortunetellers are fake and annoying, that the town sucks, etc. And then the next chapter they’re standing up for the witches and supporting the town. At one point there’s mention of all the tourists the town gets, and then we read about how the town is always forgotten on maps and no one goes there. It all made no sense to me and was just highly inconsistent. 

I didn’t mind Hazel as a protagonist, but there is no character development in this entire book. Mandrake and a Murder features the most one-dimensional characters I’ve ever read. The two aunts speak and act exactly the same, I have no idea what Hazel or the fake boyfriend or anybody else looks like, the talking cat Hemlock and his shadow Hedge seem to just be thrown in there for comedic relief without actually being funny, and every citizen of Wormwood that we meet is just a cardboard cutout with a flat personality. The banter and jokes between characters fell flat and weren’t working for me either. 

I was especially disappointed in the fake dating aspect. The “boyfriend” only shows up in the beginning when he tells Hazel they’re fake dating, and then never shows up again. There was absolutely no point to include that subplot in the book when it didn’t pan out or pertain to the story whatsoever. 

On top of minimal character development, the plot development was also lacking. In some scenes, events were happening that should have been explained more because they didn’t make sense, or they moved too fast, or the reasoning behind someone’s actions wasn’t explained at all. Characters were drawing conclusions that I didn’t think they had sufficient evidence for. I was also disappointed in the descriptions of magic that were surface-level at best. I wanted to see more witchy magic but that is very much lacking here. 

The murder investigation itself was also a huge letdown. The victim was an unknown character that no one knows, the reveal of the murderer was not surprising in the least, and the murderer’s intentions were confusing at best. I felt like the ending was very unsatisfying as well, and there were no “twists” like the synopsis promises. 

The writing style in this book feels very amateurish and is annoyingly repetitive. There are sentences like, “Her cupcake was left uneaten on the table where she’d left it,” as well as multiple sentences in a row saying the same thing. 

Mandrake and a Murder is fast-paced if only because it leaves out many necessary details. I actually struggled to get through it, and the novel is only 189 pages. This book is full of inconsistencies and a frustrating lack of anything exciting. 

I didn’t care about any of the characters, I didn’t care about the murder or who did it, I didn’t care what happened with the plot. That’s honestly how I felt during the entire book: I just didn’t care. I won’t be continuing with the series and I would not recommend. 

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