Score: 94+/100 (9.4+ out of 10)
The Dagger by Marieke Lexmond is a spellbinding book filled to the brim with magic, witches, and family drama! It is the first book in the incredible, award-winning Madigan Chronicles series, a series that follows a coven of witches, many of whom are family, as they combat the forces of evil and try to secure three sacred, enchanted items that hold control over magic: the Dagger, the Wand, and the Tarot Deck.
Ok, we read these books out of order, reading the third book first. So, we were under the impression that this was a series that was primarily focused on Maeve, the plucky little mermaid/siren character with the cute dog and the twin. By reading this book, we learned that Maeve's story is just one arc in a much bigger and more exciting story! Maeve's family—descendants of the Madigans, guardians of the Wand of Wisdom—is absolutely fascinating! Each family member seems to have their own special gift, their own arc, and their own unique story to tell.
For example, there's Diane, an apparent precog, having the “gift” to see flashes of the future. However, these visions are often changing and confusing, both a blessing and a curse on Diane. Diane isn't even a major character in this particular book, but she's an example of how great little gems are hidden in here for the audience/reader to find.
There are two major, overlapping plots that run throughout this book:
1. The security of the Dagger of Consciousness, a magical item that was intended to help maintain the powers of the elements in the midst of the industrial revolution (when these things were seemingly losing their relevance)
2. The decades long rivalry and animosity between two powerful twin witches: the benevolent, humble Tara and her sinister, egotistical sister, Lucy
Really, what separates this book from The Wand (the other in the series we read) is that the villain, Lucy, is far more compelling and interesting.
Lucy and her tenuous, tragic relationship with Tara are what make this novel great. It's extremely personal. You can tell that some love and respect still exists between the sisters, but they are too far gone for their relationship to be repaired.
Lucy's entire motivation is actually very understandable. She was a prodigy with an extremely high affinity for magic, much higher than her twin sister. Despite this, she was denied possession of the Wand of Wisdom, the powerful family heirloom, due to the laws of primogeniture. The Wand is instead bestowed to Tara, her less powerful yet humble and earlier-born twin. Tara is so selfless that she even offers to give it to Lucy, but their mother shoots down this idea.
You can feel Lucy's frustration and feeling of betrayal oozing from the pages. Everyone who has been passed over for a well-deserved promotion can empathize with this.
However, Lucy's actions decades later (at the time of the main story) make it clear that there's no going back for her. She becomes a homicidal sociopath and a fratricidal serial-killer who uses magic to bring about tornadoes and other events that lead to widespread death and destruction.
Lucy may be our favorite villain so far this year. She is simultaneously despicable yet relatable. We loved to hate her. We hated to love her. She is referred to as “Dark Aunt” and “Infamous Sister” throughout the series. How freakin' awesome and cool is that? It's like this character has a reputation for being a bad@$$. There were at least two moments in which we actually felt bad for Lucy.
Playing adjacent (and as a foil) to the Lucy-Tara dynamic is the relationship between two other twins, Bridget and the aforementioned Maeve, along with their relationship to their mother, Luna.
Luna, perhaps being aware of what happened between Tara and her evil sister, treats Bridget with severity when she threatens to act up. The relationship between these family members remains a tenuous issue.
However, when it becomes apparent that Lucy is back (and pissed), the various members of the Madigan family are forced to bond together to try to stop her. Their best hope is to work together to try to secure the enchanted item known as the Dagger of Consciousness.
This book is surprisingly dramatic. You can't help but be touched, saddened, and elated by some of the moments that the family shares.
The moments between Lucy and Tara in which you think they might just care about each other (still) and might just come together are some of the best parts of the book. The writing in this book is also beautiful and eloquent. The only real weaknesses of this book are some of the slower, meandering moments near the middle.
There's a particular meeting place in this series, a bar called "The Hat" or “Under the Witches Hat” (which also serves as the author's brand name), in which the characters gather and discuss things, adding context to some of their relationships and events in this and future books. Some of these things are interesting. Other times it ruins the pacing and progression of the story. It also messes with the tension when characters have time to comfortably chill and hang out like this, although this isn't a problem exclusively with this story. Many stories by various authors have this problem, flat-lining near the middle. In all fairness, not every moment of every book needs to be an edge-of-your-seat thriller. It's the roller-coaster effect. Furthermore, you need some sequel-bait and cliffhangers when you're writing a series.
With all that said, whenever the story is hot, it's HOT!
If you love books about witchcraft and wizardry, this really is the perfect book series for you!
Check it out on Amazon!
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