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The Red Scrolls of Magic: The Eldest Curses, Book 1

Book review by
Carrie R. Wheadon, Common Sense Media
The Red Scrolls of Magic: The Eldest Curses, Book 1 Book Poster Image
Mature Shadowhunter series spin-off focuses on Alec, Magnus.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Details on landmarks and travel in Paris, Venice, Florence, the Apennines, and Rome. A brief psychology lesson on the kind of people attracted to cult activities.

Positive Messages

Trusting others is a risk worth taking. Be understanding of and have compassion for those who face racism and homophobia within society and their own families.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The main characters are a gay couple, a white Shadowhunter (Alec) and a warlock of Indonesian descent (Magnus). Shadowhunters aren't supposed to be gay or date Downworlders like warlocks, so the relationship faces much opposition. Alec wins over Downworlders with his heroism and selflessness, and Magnus continues to win Alec over with his empathy for others and his willingness to trust. Magnus begins to make amends for a mistake he made, even though he doesn't remember it.

Violence

Consistent with the long-running series, there are demons fight scenes and some gore (demon heads chopped off or split down the middle with special swords, wings severed). Icor flows, but when demons die they turn to dust. Cult activity includes poisoning, beating, and imprisoning potential sacrifices. Talk of past sacrifices and many killed for cult activities. A man found drained of blood. A collapsing building leads to injuries. Talk of violent parent deaths, one by hanging suicide, one by fire, and a child beaten in distant past. A woman recalls being buried alive, saved, and going back to kill the whole village that buried her.

Sex

Gay couple has sex, described as passionate kissing, undressing, moving together, and a sharp gasp. A party with many couples (straight and LGBTQ) making out in various rooms. One woman boasts of making out with many at the party. A man repeatedly propositions both men and women with much innuendo.

Language

"Hell" and not much else.

Consumerism

Many mentions and fast drives in a Maserati.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Much social drinking, mostly of champagne but also Prosecco. One character is just over 18. Drinking is for celebration, to set the romantic mood, or to handle something stressful.  Some smoking, but not main characters -- Magnus says he quit 100 years before.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Red Scrolls of Magic: The Eldest Curses is the first book in a spin-off series in Cassandra Clare's vast Shadowhunters universe, co-authored by Wesley Chu. This series start features the gay couple Alec (a Shadowhunter) and Magnus (a warlock). Alec is Jace's parabatai from the Mortal Instruments series. If you don't know what a parabatai or a Shadowhunter is, it would help to pick up City of Bones before heading off on this romantic European getaway gone wrong with Alec and Magnus. The vacation isn't going so great because the couple is constantly fighting off demons and forced to look into cult activity in Italy. Expect some of the usual demon gore, plus scary moments with the cult: a poisoning, beating, and a near sacrifice. One man is found dead, drained of blood. Origin stories of characters emerge that include parent deaths from suicide and burning, live burial, and child abuse. Other mature content includes sex once between the main characters (described as passionate kissing, undressing, moving together, and a sharp gasp) and quite a lot of social and distressed drinking. Characters overcome much to find love and stay together, including homophobia and distrust from their respective Shadowhunter and Downworlder communities. Alec wins Downworlders over with his bravery and sacrifice. Magnus charms Alec with the way he gives of himself to others.

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What's the story?

In THE RED SCROLLS OF MAGIC: THE ELDEST CURSES, BOOK 1, the great war has just ended and Magnus just wants to take his new boyfriend, Alec, on a European vacation. In the middle of the most romantic outing Magnus can think of -- dinner in a magically controlled hot air balloon over Paris -- they spot demons attacking Shadowhunters and rush to save them. And when they return to their posh hotel to clean up for the theater, the warlock Tessa Grey is waiting for them, bearing some difficult news. A cult is on the rise in Europe, killing faeries and other Downworlders to raise demons, and rumor has it that Magnus could be to blame. Magnus searches memories of his very long warlock life and finds a blank spot of years, as if something important had been magically erased. As he tries to remember, he and Alec hop a train to Italy to locate the source of the cult before more Shadowhunters get involved. So much for a romantic getaway.

Is it any good?

Fans of the Shadowhunters universe have another fun spin-off series to follow with more demons, demonic cults, and intense romance, this time featuring a gay couple. Alec, a Shadowhunter, and Magnus, a warlock, are the power pair in question in The Red Scrolls of Magic: The Eldest Curses. Neither Shadowhunters (the older ones anyhow) nor Downworlders like the match at first, but readers will. Who wouldn't want to be on a European vacation with Magnus, who picks the best hotels, restaurants, and parties to attend and knows how to dress everyone for every occasion? Alec is a good counterpart to Magnus, levelheaded and ready to save anyone who needs saving.

While the cult stuff is nothing new in the Shadowhunter universe of books, the Italian setting and some supporting characters keep it a bit fresher. Longtime fans will enjoy the meet-cute between Aline and Helen. They may also enjoy this closer look at the world of warlocks. A surprise twist ending will excite readers for the sequel.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the main relationship in The Red Scrolls of Magic. How do the characters handle homophobia? How does Alec deal with his disapproving parents?

  • What does the Red Scrolls of Magic propose followers do? Why was it written? How has interpretation of it changed over the ages?

  • Have you read other books in the Shadowhunters universe? How does this one compare? Why do you think author Cassandra Clare decided to co-write this series?

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