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A Fistful of Sky

A Fistful of Sky - Nina Kiriki Hoffman I enjoyed this, a cozy fantasy novel set in modern California. It reminded me a bit of [b:Elfland|6276214|Elfland (Aetherial Tales, #1)|Freda Warrington|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1312032095s/6276214.jpg|6459697], with its real-world though non-urban* setting and its focus on a close-knit and eccentric family with hidden magical powers – though A Fistful of Sky lacks the romance and melodrama of Elfland, as well as Elfland’s ethereal qualities. There’s lots of magic in this book, but it’s grounded in mundane reality.

Gypsum LaZelle is 20, but she still lives in her parents’ mansion, along with three of her four siblings. She’s accustomed herself to being the only “normal” member of her family, when she suddenly discovers a powerful and potentially sinister magical talent. Most of the book is about Gyp’s struggles to understand her new powers, her changing family relationships and her search for her own identity. Coming-of-age stories are common in fantasy, but this one is handled well, in particular the positive message about body image. Gyp is chubby, and perfectly comfortable with that, a state of affairs even her image-conscious mother is forced to accept. (Too bad the cover artists couldn’t accept it too; that’s a beautiful design, but the slender silhouette does not fit this character.)

This is a quick read, often humorous, with lots of dialogue. Gyp has a good first-person voice and is endearing, though it’s hard to tell what we’re meant to make of her family; she loves them very much and yet they have a nasty tendency to use coercive magic against each other, and her, at every opportunity. In many ways the book reads as if it were Gyp’s diary, sometimes bogging down a bit in the record of her every spell and the mechanics of her magic, sometimes with an eye to insignificant details such as seating arrangements. And the phrasing often sounds more like the way a young person would speak than polished prose. But it managed to pull me into Gyp’s life, and the uses to which she puts her magic are funny and entertaining. She and her siblings are liable to run amok experimenting with their powers, and no one gets too worked up about the results, which sort themselves out one way or another; for a fantasy novel, this is remarkably chill.

So, I would recommend this book, when you’re in the mood for fantasy without dire happenings or much in the way of plot, just growing up and having fun with magic. The fantasy genre can be dark and violent, so this is a nice change of pace. The story is set around Christmastime and would make an enjoyable Christmas read.

* I'm classifying this as "urban fantasy" anyway, because I'm not sure how else to label a fantasy novel with a modern, real-world setting.