Review & Author Interview: The Price of Magic by KJ Taylor

Saturday, 3 December 2016

The Price of Magic by KJ Taylor
Released: 24th November
Published by: Black Phoenix Publishing Collective
Genre: YA Fantasy
Source: Publisher
Pages: 424
My Rating: 4 of 5 stars
“You are here because you were born different. Born with a gift ... and a curse.”

Heroes come in all shapes. Upright, manly, sword-wielding…. Or small and weedy with walking sticks. Unless you look hard enough, you might miss these ones. Pip’s on a journey to find out just what he can do—in magic and in life. Big things are expected of him. . And he’s about to be tested Can he deliver?

This new Young Adult work by acclaimed Australian author KJ Taylor is a stand-alone novella about confronting our challenges and celebrating our differences. Meet Pip and Seress, Ana and Clemence, Jinx and Hex, and follow their quest to find and stop the mad mage who is threatening magic's very existence.

KJ Taylor asks us to think about the choices we make, and the price that we pay for them. For anyone who’s ever been intimidated by those around them, here's a heart-warming story of one boy who isn’t content to be defined by others.
Thank you to Black Phoenix Publishing for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review

The Price of Magic is a unique read which not only encapsulates diversity within fantasy, but holds a heartwarming message at its core. Although not a full-length novel, this story is one which is features a richly imagined world where imperfections are accepted and a path can be followed to find your own magic.

From the beginning of the novella opening with the author's note, I saw that this was going to be a read that would be a memorable one. The concept that 'You are not a disability. You are not an illness. You are you. You are a person. Never be defined by what you cannot do, but instead embrace what you can do' really shone through in the storyline. Books which revolve around characters with disabilities are often susceptible to criticism, either for seemingly stereotyping or being unrealistic in the portrayal of the challenges people face. A large part of this novella's success in my opinion is treating this topic with both tact and a realistic element, within the framework of this magical world where those powers come with a 'Price'.

Our protagonist Pip was likable from the very beginning. Despite his crippled leg, his hopeful idealism and willingness to make the most of the opportunities presented to him were inspiring. The sense of adventure which follows his time at The Institute and beyond ensures that there is never a dull moment. This is a story which champions the underdog, and goes to show that just because someone is at first unassuming, they may hold far greater strength than you may first think.

In all, KJ Taylor's novella is well worth a read for YA fantasy fans. It cleverly depicts both the price to be paid for magic, and the true gift of finding that there is also something special to be found in every one of us.

Author Interview with KJ Taylor

How have your own personal experiences shaped your writing journey for The Price of Magic?

I have Asperger’s Syndrome, which wasn’t diagnosed until I was sixteen. I’m happy and living a full life today, but I had some very hard times thanks to my… well, you can call it a disability if you like. I had a difficult childhood – I was bullied for being different, and believed I was “stupid”. I couldn’t relate to other kids, so I retreated into a fantasy world, where I made up little stories and played games by myself where I pretended to be other people – people who weren’t me, because I didn’t like being me. I loved creating things – drawing, painting, sewing, and writing little stories and poems. And people liked them! I also loved reading, because that was an escape too, so the time eventually came when I started writing novels of my own. I wanted to be a great author and prove my talent to the world (why hello there, self-esteem issues! Where on earth did you spring from, eh? ;) ). I managed to sell a novel to Scholastic when I was only 17, which was an incredible triumph for yours truly. But as I continued my new career as an author, I slowly stopped caring about proving myself. I stopped wanting to be famous, or rich.

I realised that what really mattered was that telling stories made me happy – but also that it made other people happy. I realised that being who and what I am means I have something to offer the world which others can’t. And that’s the message (well one of them) of The Price of Magic: that no matter who you are and what your troubles might be, everyone has something to offer. Never let anyone convince you that you’re not worth anything, and don’t let your troubles convince you of it either. The mages in this book are analogues for artists. They are driven by a passion to create things, as I was, and their difficulties are what help to motivate them, as mine have. And, like artists, they tend to be very solitary and sometimes jealous of each other (hence Aurelia’s poor behaviour in the early parts of the book).

What first made you want to create a story in the fantasy genre?

As a kid, and then as a teenager, I read a lot of fantasy, mostly YA fantasy (I never really graduated to reading fantasy aimed at adults). It was simply the genre I naturally gravitated to. I was one of those kids who believed in magic (or, at least, liked to pretend it was real). I think the genres we choose to write in are often a reflection of what sort of person we are. I’m a daydreamer who likes animals and isn’t interested in, say, outer space. Hence the ideas that come to  me are almost always fantastical in nature. So far I haven’t published anything that isn’t fantasy.

I found your portrayal of people who are facing particular challenges within themselves or have a disability in this novel quite a unique and powerful one. While this can be a sensitive topic in novels, how important was it for you to get the right message across?

Quite! I really didn’t want to upset anyone or imply that the sick and disabled are lesser human beings, which is of course not remotely true. However, I also didn’t want to sugarcoat anything, because that doesn’t help either. As a person who is in a sense mentally handicapped, there are few tropes that enrage me more than that of the “noble retard”, or the “inspirational cripple”. It’s disgusting. We are not here to inspire “normal” people to lead better lives – we are human beings in our own right. As a matter of fact, after I was diagnosed I was repeatedly asked to do something to “inspire” other people with Asperger’s, and I said “why should I be obliged to do that, just because I have the syndrome myself?”. My publicity campaign never mentioned it, and I never talked publicly about it until much more recently. I wasn’t looking to inspire anyone; I just wanted to do my own thing. Was I being selfish? Maybe; I don’t know. But why should people like me be obliged to inspire people? I found it rather insulting, honestly. Therefore, when it came to this book, I did what I always do when writing characters: I treated all of them as people first and foremost. There is no golden rule which states that the chronically ill or the disabled need to be portrayed as either “good” or “bad”, because all of them are human beings. You can have clinical depression and still be a huge jerk. You can be confined to a wheelchair and still be cruel to children. So while a good number of the characters have disabilities or chronic (in two cases, terminal) illnesses, they’re still just people when all is said and done.  

The worldbuilding was one of my favourite aspects of the novel. How did the idea for 'The Institute' come about?

I liked the idea of magic being treated as basically a business (a friend suggested it to me). One publisher complained that The Institute was too much like Hogwarts, but I think that’s unfair. Yes, young mages go there to learn, but the place isn’t a school. I was actually playing off the old tradition of mages/wizards taking on apprentices, so there are no classes – just one on one tutoring, and it’s more to do with learning a trade. And secondly, the Institute is also a kind of hospital/asylum (that’s why I called it that – it’s an institution). Mages are people who often need to be taken care of, so it’s in their best interests to live in a place where that care is available (it’s not really gone into, but they have plenty of qualified doctors in residence). But the Institute really isn’t good at handling mental illness (note how the depressed Seress is mostly just left alone, and others are dumped in padded cells, never to be seen again). I foresee a future in which Pip will essentially become a psychiatrist, helping others with their emotional troubles and teaming up with another character to grow new medicinal plants for treating mental illness. Antipsychotics, that sort of thing. If I ever write a sequel, you will see Pip do exactly that.  

Are there any other authors or books which influenced you when writing The Price of Magic?

Despite my earlier protestations, there definitely is a bit of Harry Potter inspiration present. Tone-wise I drew on my very first novel, The Land of Bad Fantasy (it was a parody/satire). I was almost certainly also influenced by Alan Marshall’s autobiography I Can Jump Puddles. Marshall was crippled by polio as a child and spent the rest of his life on crutches, but he never let it define his life and refused to be “the crippled kid” – he wanted to run and swim and fight and catch rabbits just like the other boys, and he did exactly that, and was highly insulted whenever people tried to shower him with pity for his “terrible affliction”. Now there’s an inspiring story! Other than that all I drew on was my own experiences – this is probably the most personal thing I’ve ever written.

What is the best piece of advice you could give to other aspiring authors out there?

Don’t write to succeed – write for its own sake. I won’t lie to you – this business is incredibly hard to get into, and just as hard to stay in. Therefore, focus on telling the stories only you can tell and worry about selling the things later.

After this brilliant novella, can you give a hint as to what you're writing at the moment? 

Aw shucks. J Several things, as a matter of fact! I’m never working on just one thing at a time. Some of the things I’m writing at the moment include a satirical novel about a CEO who slays vampires who are trying to stage a hostile takeover of his company, one about a girl who can transform into a winged lion teaming up with a phoenix shapeshifter to stop a secret society from taking over the country, a Bronze-age fantasy about a dinosaur-like creature with telepathic abilities and her human friend, the huntress who raised her. And a short story or two.

Thankyou so much for offering me this interview! As a little bonus, I thought I’d write out a list of what each character’s Price actually is:

Ollet “Pip” Gardener – deformed right leg, possible dwarfism
Aurelia – an unspecified terminal wasting disease
Byrne – Asperger’s Syndrome
Deodar – clinical anxiety
Seress – severe clinical depression
The villain – some kind of nerve condition which causes chronic pain (no wonder he/she is so pissed off. I would be)
Master Hystrix – alcoholism (probably stemming from some other issue he’s trying to drown with booze)
Master Auzerais – Prader-Willi syndrome (a condition which leaves the sufferer incapable of ever feeling full, so they don’t know when to stop eating)
Master Anathoth – Parkinson’s Disease

What do you love about YA fantasy?

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