Review: Higher Magic by Kira Izmailova

Form: paperback
Genre: Urban fantasy, romance, crime story
Target audience: adults and young adults (but closer to 18)
Pages: 416
When Naina Chernova signed up for the State’s Magic University in Moskow she thought it was a good choice, better than economy anyway. She was left disappointed though. Mathematics? Philosophy? The history of magic? Who needs these when you are promised to practice witchcraft? What could be done?  Soon enough her student life was progressing at a steady pace until one day she was sorely tempted and decided to break into a forbidden section of the University library. And was caught – by  professor Igor Davletiarov, a guy nobody, especially not a student, would like to cross. She expected to be thrown out. And officially she was. Still it was completely spurious.
Both her status and education changed dramatically – she became a part of a very exclusive group of students schooled in real magic, something she had yearned to try ever since. She proved to be gifted, so gifted that she was chosen for a special team preparing to conduct some dangerous and super secret experiment. And here she hit another snag. Davletiarov, a tutor who was never exactly friendly but decent, started to pick on her publicly in a very nasty manner. Why? Naina’s curiosity became alive despite her hurt feelings. She decided to investigate the past of her tormentor and found out things which made her rethink pretty much everything time and again. Can magic be dangerous to her?  
What I liked:
At first glance it seemed just another version of Harry Potter for a slightly older audience – a clever but rather homely girl starts her higher education in magic, is underwhelmed by the chosen alma mater and a tad lonely; then  her life changes all of a sudden because of her own curiosity, a mysterious sixth floor which keeps appearing and disappearing and an unpleasant professor (Snape, yes, I had to add that, almost Snape but more intelligent and cleaner). Still it was original and fresh – not only the sense of humour (I laughed out loud like mad several times maybe because I could relate) and the vivid characterization but also the whole setting which really sometimes seemed far closer to Bulhakov than to J.K Rowling.
Naina is a very likeable character, inquisitive, recourceful, intelligent, ironic. I liked following her around even if from time to time her life was boring. Her relationship with Davletiarov was mature, changing and developing, so far from those tiring, silly infatuations as it is only possible; yes, there was a kind of fascination but also a lot of common sense (‘what this guy wants?’ why he behaves that way or the other?’ ‘what’s happened to him?’). After reading so many American novels in which the females are either drooling over boyfriends’ six packs or cat-fighting each other to prove how kick-ass they are this was like a return to a much-missed normalcy.
Finally Naina did something which not only made me cheer but also earned my deepest respect (as it is a spoiler it is masked, highlight to read or skip, according to your wishes): she left Davletiarov. Yes, she walked away from him completely on her own. And he let her do it. Mind you she did it ONLY and SOLELY because she wanted to show her own mettle. There was no ‘third’ party, no other romantic interest, NOTHING like an ugly love triangle. You see, Mesdames et Messieurs? Completely possible. What a refreshing move after reading about all those vapid, brainless girls who are so insanely bipolar when it comes to their feelings that they sometimes make me dizzy (up-again-down-again).
What I didn’t like:
I do admit the book had its weaknesses. It was a bit too long or too short – I am sure any American writer would make of it a fully-fledged trilogy. Not a bad trilogy to add. The pace of narration was too monotone, especially in the third part of the book when the characters of Naina and Igor were separated for some time. Some plot devices like Naina’s sudden trip to Paris and her equally sudden change of heart after shopping in Parisian boutiques and getting to know foreign mages were a bit stretched. I can understand a girl can lose heart after seeing a nice pair of shoes but to lose her heart so completely? Has the author run out of ideas? Fortunately soon the order of things was restored and in the end we get a big fat HFN (happy for now). Which suited me fine.
Oh and the cover seems to be just a random jumble of pictures. This story deserves something better.
Final verdict:
A very light and refreshing novel with an interesting plot, narrated in a funny way, and featuring a pair of protagonists who are very likeable although a bit flawed. Bad news: as far as I know it is not available in English. Not yet I hope – a publisher should get interested in this one asap. 
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