Author: Mette Ivie Harrison
Publisher: Egmont USA
Date: October 2011
Genres: Contemporary, Mythology
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Izzie loves Mark, and why shouldn’t she? As the captain of the basketball team, he is kind and loving and he’s everything she’s ever wanted in a boyfriend. Her BFF loves . . . somebody, but she won’t say who. So when a hot new guy, Tristan, shows up at school, who better for Izzie to fix up her friend Brangane with? And what better way to do it than with a love philtre?
But even the best of magic has a way of going awry—and Izzie finds she’s accidentally fallen in love with Tristan herself. And that’s a problem. First of all, there’s Mark. Second, Tristan comes with baggage—like the supernatural creatures that keep attacking whenever he’s with Izzie, and the fact that he comes from the place where Izzie’s father was killed, years ago, by an enormous, evil serpent that’s still around—and it knows Izzie is out there.
I was initially drawn to this book because I am huge fan of Arthurian legend and the heartbreaking tale of Tristan and Isolde. The original story is timeless and has inspired famous tragedies Romeo and Juliet and the Arthur-Lancelot-Guinevere legend. It has been immortalized as an opera by Wagner. It is probably one of literature’s first love triangles. That said, nothing about this book is timeless or classic, and that’s putting it lightly. If I only had one word to describe this book, it would be superficial which applies to Tris and Izzie in so many ways.
The story is narrated by popular Tintangel High student Izzie. She has the perfect boyfriend, captain of the basketball team Mark, and a slightly less attractive best friend Branna. Everything seems to be going smoothly for her and her worst problem is solving Branna’s woes by finding her a boyfriend. Enter new student Tristan, who transfers to the school after the death of his parents. He’s a fast runner and speaks in a slightly archaic style of English (which is about as interesting as he gets). Izzie, superficial, self-centered girl that she is, decides that Tristan and Branna would be perfect for each other and that she going to personally ensure they happen.
Suddenly, we are hit with the appearance of a magic wine bottle, the fact that Izzie’s mom is a witch and that the obvious solution to Branna’s problem is a love potion (or philtre, to be accurate). The fact that the entire book now revolves around magic was introduced so randomly it was jarring. In fact, that is an accurate description of how I felt throughout the book—jarred. Like the story was one long bumper car ride whose only resemblance to the original heartbreaking tale are the names. If you think the idea of a love potion is bad, it only gets worse.
The plot manages to be transparent but shocking at the same time, in a bad way. Take for example Izzie ‘accidentally’ drinking the love potion she prepared for Branna. Couldn’t she have dropped the bottle instead? I realize that a love potion is the catalyst in the original story, but who would purposely drink a potion that would make them fall for someone else, fully aware of its permanent effect, even though they had a boyfriend they loved?
All the relationships and interactions in the story were just as inorganic and forced like the love potion—I felt absolutely no chemistry between any of the couples at any time. All the characters were underdeveloped, like cardboard cutouts made to walk and talk. The only personality trait they had was the ability to infuriate me. I didn’t once feel any sympathy or even empathy towards them. The love rectangle was so forced and I didn’t buy Tristan and Izzie’s feelings at any point in the story. It just happened, like they both just woke up and were suddenly madly in love. It wasn’t even a real love potion! There was no build up to the relationship, which is the part that makes us as readers care. Izzie tells me they were tensely, madly in love before I had a chance to form an opinion about it.
That said, my main complaint about the book (and you can see I’ve already had quite a few so far) is its treatment of magic. All other books of a similar genre I’ve previously read builds a world and sets out clear rules of how magic fits into it. Whether it is wands, or different abilities, or the presence of certain magical creatures, races or occupations, there is a perspective and a history of what magic is and how it works in the world. There are also magical limits and levels of difficulty, like the time and effort it takes to conjure a spell or potion, or the training someone has to go through to master their powers.
None of this was established in Tris and Izzie. Instead, every magic cliché felt randomly thrown in. There are magical objects, potions, elemental magic, magical creatures, magical places, but most of it is poorly explained and doesn’t enhance the story. Izzie’s mom is a witch and potions maker, Izzie is an elemental sorceress, Tristan is an alchemist from a magical island, Branna’s grandmother may or may not be able to see into the future, but not once in the book does it describe what all of it means beyond the very basics.
Going back through the notes I made, the phrase “Seriously?!” was used so often I felt like I was reading a script of the Gilmore Girls. Events happen with no explanation and then resolved with little to no effort. Izzie, with no formal training, is simply told by her mom she actually has elemental powers and suddenly she’s throwing fireballs left, right and center. Tristan’s magic sword defeats a two-headed dog, and then they both kill a giant that is chasing magic. Most ridiculous of all, Izzie defeats the main antagonist (a tyrant of a giant serpent) using the power of its ‘true name’ which she learns in a flashback of her dad shown to her by the giant serpent himself! The concept, commonly found in Egyptian Myth, was just another thing thrown into the mess of a world the story inhabits. When Tristan is blinded during the final battle, I felt a small glimmer of hope, but he is healed instantly by one of her mom’s potions. It’s like any attempt at depth in the story ignored. Every resolution is a deus ex machina. It is all just a pile of absolutely ludicrous hodgepodge.